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Most People are Consumers Not Creators of Social Media Health Content

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2014!

I thought I’d kick off the New Year discussing an interesting online trend – that most people are consumers rather than creators of health-related social media content.

I believe this is a pertinent discussion because as more healthcare organizations pursue larger online audiences, it’ll be increasingly important for them to understand the content habits of these audiences e.g. who are the creators vs. the consumers of content; where do they hang out; and why do they behave the way they do.

This type of persona insight is incredibly useful in helping healthcare marketers to segment and target their audiences more precisely.

7K0A0788 Most People are Consumers Not Creators of Social Media Health Content

Has the social web turned people into mere consumers of content?

So let’s get started.

In the beginning…

Historically (i.e. before Web 2.0) online health information seekers went to organization-sponsored websites (which were largely static webpages) to find what they were looking for.

Of course online content wasn’t democratized to the extent that it is now, where virtually anyone with a computer and Internet access can easily create or share their personal thoughts and ideas on the social web.

In fact the Internet was not originally created as a communication tool for social interaction – this is a more recent development.

What changed?

As people’s activities and communications on the Internet increased, it seemed useful to have more information about their social relationships. Hence the web evolved into a more social space rather than a technical one – it is now designed to help people share ideas and work together.

For example according to Technorati, there are nearly 1.3 million blogs online, 13% of Internet users have a Twitter account (140 million), Facebook has over 1 billion users, and by next year (2015) it is estimated that the number of organizations and people who use social media will reach over 3 billion – 3 billion, that’s almost half the world’s population!

To put it simply there’s a staggering number of people (73% of U.S. adults) using social media.

What about health-related social content?

When it comes to health-related information or discussions, a study done by the Journal of Medical Internet Research showed that people are more comfortable consuming and sharing rather than creating content.

For example the study found that only 15% of respondents created online information while 30% to 40% reported consuming health-related social media content e.g. online rankings or reviews of doctors, hospitals and medical treatments. Take a closer look:

  • 41% of people consult (i.e. consume) online rankings and reviews of doctors, hospitals or medical treatments;
  • 31% consume social media content for health-related information;
  • 10% contribute (or create) content by posting reviews of doctors, hospitals, drugs and treatments;
  • 15% post a comment, question or information about health or medical issues on a blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, a website, or an online discussion forum.

The lack of active participation in health-related social media conversations is quite intriguing.

With so many people logging onto their social networks every day, how is it that most aren’t taking advantage of the inherent value of “social” media i.e. participating and contributing to online conversations. Instead they prefer to be passive listeners merely passing on information to their friends.

The study suggests a couple of reasons for this trend:

  • People have less encounters with doctors and medical professionals these days so they don’t have too many personal experiences to share;
  • People might feel incompetent about health-related discussions preferring to leave such discussions to the “experts”;
  • The third reason is my own – I think most people just don’t have the time to commit to content creation (even something as simple as leaving a comment) – it’s just one more thing they’d have to curve out time for from their busy schedules.

Among those who consume health-related social media content, women, young people and those suffering from chronic illnesses are at the top (no surprise there!).

However the latter group is more likely to contribute content since they have real-life experience living with a chronic illness, which makes them feel more knowledgeable and competent about expressing their opinions.

I have two things to say about this.

One, I think it’s great that those who suffer from chronic illnesses are willing to discuss their medical conditions and experiences, in the hope of helping someone else who is going through a similar situation.

What this tells me is that each patient is an expert, in the sense that he or she has a completely unique experience of living with a particular illness. Hence their contribution to online health-related content is equally valuable, to that of doctors, medical professionals and other ‘experts’.

Two, there are way too many people out there (90%) who aren’t contributing to the conversation. Is it that they are mere spectators, or are they waiting for the opportune moment to join the discussion. I’m not sure.

What I do know is that healthcare marketers must figure out a way to ‘draw out’ and engage these bystanders if they hope to segment and target audiences appropriately.

I think one way to do this is to invite willing content consumers (e.g. those women, young people and the chronically ill) to contribute user-generated content on organization-sponsored blogs. It seems to me that they’d be more likely to draw other users like themselves into the conversation.

Over to you

What do you think? Has the social web turned people into mere consumers rather than creators of health content? How can we change this trajectory?

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  • Eric S. Michelson

    Well, think about that 15% who could not previously create content before web 2.0. That’s remarkable by itself. Compare to a newspaper with 100,000 readers – it would have 15,000 reporters or columnists!

    • predsicker

      Hi Eric, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that it is truly remarkable how far we’ve come. But the comparison between newspaper publishing and social media content isn’t apples to apples as there are no barriers to entry in the latter case – anyone with an opinion can be a publisher! That’s why I believe more consumers should take advantage of the tools and actively participate in the conversation.