In Search Of Health On Social

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, March 9, 2023

The explosion of news around artificial intelligence (AI) is shining a bright light on a truth that many marketers are already navigating — that search behavior is evolving in ways that pose real and unique challenges for health.

In this age of information proliferation, consumers are leveraging multiple means and resources to piece together answers to their health-related questions. 

Historically, this type of information discovery was limited to well-known endemic websites, or traditional search engines, which reward highly authoritative content with rankings. However, many are now turning to social media in addition to search engines for knowledge gathering.

While Gen Z is driving the most significant change here — 40% of them now turn to TikTok or Instagram when searching for information over Google — search habits are evolving across demographics.

TikTok has been the most popular domain on the internet for more than a year, and Google recently referenced internal survey data suggesting passive discovery on social platforms can be a potent tool for information seekers. 

Although all marketers are tracking this shift in consumer behavior, the stakes are high for health marketers, who must ensure that accurate information is provided to consumers at crucial moments in their health journeys. 

Fulfilling Patient Needs

Patients are more empowered than ever to turn to different information sources to fulfill their needs. When leveraging a traditional search engine, the intent and expectation is to easily find clinical, FDA-approved information via brand websites, scholarly articles and endemic sites. 

When following a health-related handle or searching for a brand name on a social platform, the intent and expectation is to fulfill an emotional need, such as discovering patient communities or learning about personal approaches to condition management from peers in the community.

While these information sources will continue to surface different types of content, an opportunity exists to create more balance and a less fragmented consumer experience -- with brands interjecting more verified information into the social conversation and traditional search giants like Google and Bing further incorporating key opinion leaders and other user-generated content into their results.

Marketer Toolkits Evolve to Meet Consumer Behavior

Social platforms are uniquely positioned to evolve our collective understanding of the discovery journey. 

As search behaviors evolve, so too are the marketer’s toolkits to address them.

Highly authentic communities are discoverable on social and marketers are working with platforms to align the unique strengths of each social site with accurate, approachable and inspirational content promoted by brands. 

The evolution of search advertising opportunities on Social platforms starts with building scale and proof points about evolving consumer behavior specific to a given therapeutic area to help shape strategy. 

Tools to understand search volume for specific keywords, audience behavior insights, compliance safeguards, relevant targeting levers and placements specifically tailored to the search experience will all help ensure the potential of search on social is realized.  

In alignment with this toolkit, another means of increasing discoverable and impactful health information on social is working closely with creators to make content that is authentic and accurate -- unlocking the needs of the consumer on social platforms. 

Empowering Patients with a More Balanced Future

User expectations will continue to evolve, demanding information that is both authentic and accurate.

As social continues to grow as the dominant means of discovery, brands must show up in these moments to remain at the top of the consideration set.  

In the healthcare space, the importance of surfacing accurate information is paramount. Traditional search engines prioritize rankings based on authoritative, helpful content and use backlinks to quantify this.

Social is not quite the same in this regard, as the ranking and discovery algorithms on these platforms rely heavily on engagement, which in turn allows inaccurate information to travel faster -- only further amplifying the needs for brands to vocally participate in the conversation. 

Microsoft and Alphabet recently announced they are incorporating generative artificial intelligence AI into search on Bing and Google, respectively.

Generative AI is in its infancy and will continue to require human oversight and input to mitigate misinformation which may surface. Brands have an opportunity to contribute to the social conversation, creating accurate content to help fuel generative AI – and doing so will only benefit traditional search campaigns as well. 

At the end of the day, it will be patients who are the key benefactors to a more balanced environment between authenticity and information accuracy -- be it on Google or TikTok -- as approachable and helpful answers are the underlying intent of a search no matter where it is conducted.

By connecting the human with the clinical, we may see greater impact and better outcomes. 

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