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Why Healthcare Blogging is Better than Social Networking: New Research

Are you wondering how to influence patients and consumers?

The latest findings from Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report show that “consumers are turning to blogs when looking to make a purchase.”

In fact, blogs rank favorably with consumers for trust, popularity and even influence.

Here are some interesting findings from the Technorati report.

#1: Blogs Influence Consumers’ Purchasing Decisions

The report found that blogs are now the third most influential digital resource (31%) when making overall purchases, behind retail sites (56%) and brand sites (34%).

Consumers said that blogs rank higher than Twitter for shaping their opinions and higher than Facebook for motivating purchasing decisions, such as selecting a hospital.

Consumers consider blogs to be trusted sources of information

Consumers consider blogs to be trusted sources of information

Why are blogs so influential? Bloggers tend to be very honest and sincere in their reviews of products and services. They talk about both negative and positive aspects of a brand, and in doing so become a trusted source of information. Trust drives action, and thus consumers look to bloggers before they buy.

Think of Kevin Pho, a physician-blogger whose influence on the subject of healthcare was established through his blog In 2009 his blog received 1.4 million unique visitors. In January 2012, Pho was listed on Klout as the number one healthcare social media influencer and number one social media influencer in medicine.

#2: Consumers Say Smaller Communities Are More Influential

Over half of consumers surveyed agreed that smaller communities have greater influence on a topic than larger ones.

The real value of online communities comes from discussing ideas, sharing information and learning from one another. Rarely does value come from the size of a community.

Community size and influence

Most consumers agree that smaller communities have greater influence

Consumers understand this. But brands often get hung up on acquiring massive communities, sometimes at the expense of user experience.

In fact, brand marketers often pursue popular A-list bloggers to advocate on their behalf, hoping this strategy will help a message go viral and explode the size of their community.

The problem is that while a message blasted by a popular blogger might reach the masses, it doesn’t always produce the desired result. That’s because trust drives action, and popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into trust. It may even be more effective to pursue a less popular blogger who has earned the trust of and subsequent influence over his or her own small community.

If you want to become more influential with your online healthcare community, focus on solving problems, building strong relationships (with your followers and other trusted bloggers) and offering helpful educational content.

#3: Brands Rely More on Facebook to Influence Consumers

Even though brands are devoting only 10% of their total digital marketing budgets to social media, Facebook is clearly the preferred platform, taking 57% of the slice.

Facebook is where the world hangs out and brand marketers know how important it is to be successful on this platform. In fact, the report shows that when metrics from earned media goals for brands were ranked, Facebook likes were at the top.

Facebook most influential network

Brands are increasingly looking to Facebook to influence consumers

This means that brands aren’t just focusing on Facebook ads. They are also interested in seeing increased activity on their Facebook Pages so much that conversation and engagement strategies have become vital for consumer outreach. The key to influencing consumers on Facebook is sharing content that generates interaction (likes and comments) and draws in more fans. Check out Medtronics Diabetes on Facebook for a phenomenal example of how healthcare brands can influence consumer opinion.

#4: Top Social Media Influencers Blog for Themselves

According to the survey, 86% of influencers blog. Of these, 88% blog for themselves. Moreover, a majority of influencers (59%) don’t produce much content outside of blogs.

Influencers are committed to blogging

Influencers are more committed to blogs than other digital platforms

We’ve seen that trust is the currency of influence and that consumers are looking for “trusted digital friends” to give them advice on what to buy and where to go. That’s why bloggers who offer such advice are influential—because consumers trust their guidance.

If you want to grow your influence, the key is to become a trusted source of information in your industry. Provide compelling content on your blog and then amplify it through social media. People will listen and you will become their go-to resource for specific advice.

Cleveland Clinic for example has established itself as one of the premier healthcare brands in the world through blogging and creative content marketing.

#5: Brands and Influencers Measure Success Differently

When it comes to gauging the success of their campaigns, brands and influencers think differently. Brands see success as increased activity on Facebook, Twitter and their websites, while influencers rank blog or website page views as the best measure of success.

Social metrics followed by influencers

Influencers regard page views as the best measure of success

The reason why influencers focus so much on their blogs is because their priority is to deliver prospects to a site where that trust factor can begin to be tapped. For them, success is measured by the number of people reading their content.

You too can build trust by publishing high-quality educational content on your blog and providing calls to action that lead consumers and patients to a purchase opportunity. Think of sites such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic, which have become trusted sources of medical information for people seeking online health content.

#6: Brands and Influencers Have a Different Understanding of Influence

Brands are always looking for the “right people” to connect with on social media. They believe that effective influencer outreach can help spark valuable word-of-mouth campaigns that increase brand visibility and ultimately drive consumer action.

Personally I doubt that I’ll reach for a Snickers bar every time I get hungry just because Aretha Franklin or Liza Minnelli are advocates for the brand.

The problem is how brands define influence. The Technorati report says that brands are using comScore or Nielsen rankings to identify influencers, yet these metrics do not represent influencers very well. Meanwhile “real” influencers (folks like Kevin Pho whom consumers trust and rely upon for advice) are hanging out mostly on their own blogs creating tons of likeable content.

If you’re a healthcare brand marketer trying to connect with influencers, remember that having a large social media following doesn’t give you influence, it simply gives you an audience. Try looking for influencers who have very close ties to their communities, or bloggers who are relevant to your brand even if they don’t have worldwide fame.

Some great places to look include Google+ Communities and Boardreader (a search engine for online forums and community boards).

Quick Wrap Up

The biggest takeaway from the Technorati report is that blogging cultivates community, which is where influence is birthed.

Also there’s a lot we can learn from top influencers, such as what kind of content to publish, how top bloggers make money and much more.

So be sure to check out the full report to get deeper insights into developing strong digital marketing strategies.

Your Turn: What do you think? What insights revealed in this article did you find most interesting? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

**This article was first published on Social Media Examiner on March 6th, 2013 and has been slightly modified for this audience.


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