The Ultimate Guide to Using Twitter For Your Dermatology Practice

Are you interested in learning how to promote your dermatology practice on Twitter?

Compared to other social networks, Twitter is one of the simplest and most straightforward platforms you could ever use. The interface is simple and there are no privacy settings or new changes to deal with every few months.

In fact Twitter is perceived by physicians to be a more relevant platform for medical conversations than say, Facebook. Even with a limitation of 140 characters per tweet, Twitter is a great place for dermatologists to amplify your voice, accrue more influence, and extend your reach simply by leveraging this platform a few minutes each day. Here’s how to get started on Twitter.

Planning Phase

  1. Define your Goals – Decide what you are trying to achieve with Twitter. Your objectives should be specific, timely and measurable e.g. to grow your email list by 10% each month.
  2. Define your target audience – Apart from mere demographics you should have an in-depth understanding of your prospective patients’ health needs, challenges, frustrations, life-style goals and even their content preferences. This knowledge (gained through research) will help you to develop interesting content that draws them to you as a trusted source of relevant content.
  3. Understand how Hashtags work – A hashtag is a word or phrase prefixed by the pound symbol (#) e.g. #melanoma or #acne. It is a form of metadata tag used to group Twitter conversations into specific categories. Hashtags are becoming increasingly popular on Twitter as evidenced by the creation of the Healthcare Hashtag Project.

Create Your Account

  1. Create a Twitter account using the name of your business domain e.g. if your domain is, your Twitter profile should be @skindoctor.
  2. Write up a short bio or description of your profile using keywords that are both ‘Google-friendly’ and consistent with your practice e.g. skin care, etc.
  3. Include your location
  4. Add a link to your website
  5. Upload a logo or photo that is consistent with the branding of your practice
  6. Include an appealing Twitter background that complements your branding

Develop Your Tactics

  1. Follow selectively – focus on people and brands that add value to your business. Use tools such as Twellow or Tweepi to help you find relevant followers on Twitter.
  2. Use Twitter lists – A twitter list is a curated group of Twitter users that is based on specific characteristics. You may create your own list or subscribe to lists created by others. Here’s a step-by-step guide for using Twitter lists.
  3. Use time saving tools – Tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer are complementary to Twitter because they help you manage your account and save time.
  4. Budget your time – allocate about 30 minutes each day to Twitter marketing. Within that time use your favorite tool (see #3) to schedule tweets, monitor conversations and ‘listen’ to what others are saying about you.
  5. Stay on-topic – It’s easy to get distracted on Twitter if you’re not focused. Stay on topic and ignore any conversations that are irrelevant to your practice. Lists and hashtags are effective in helping you stay on topic.
  6. Engage in conversations with others by asking or answering questions, recognizing and thanking people who share your content and so on.
  7. Add  “Follow me on Twitter” buttons in the top-right corner of your website, newsletter, email signature lines and all other digital marketing properties.
  8. Create great content that engages your target audience. And don’t forget to share other people’s content too, particularly when it is consistent with your own brand’s messaging.

Monitor your Progress

  1. Regularly check your mentions (@mentions) to see what people are saying about you
  2. Use Google analytics to see how much traffic is coming to your website from Twitter.
  3. Learn, Adjust, Repeat – be prepared to experiment with new tactics to learn what works for your practice and what doesn’t. If something isn’t working, be prepared to let it go, modify your strategy and keep testing for new opportunities.

What do you think? Twitter has become quite an impressive platform for promoting healthcare and medical brands. As a dermatologist what has been your experience so far?

6 Ways to Engage Your Patients on Facebook

o you have a Facebook page for your medical practice? Are you looking for fresh ideas to quickly ramp up engagement and participation from your fans?

There are tens of millions of business pages on Facebook. There’re also those notorious, complex algorithms that mysteriously determine what fans can see or not see on their news feed.

Both these factors make it incredibly difficult for page owners like you, to maintain engagement on Facebook. But as a doctor and a business owner you know that Facebook is extremely valuable to your practice.

Here are 6 ways to improve engagement on your page.

1.  Post News articles, stories and current events

As of December 2013, Facebook updated their Newsfeed algorithm with a requirement of ‘high quality content.’ What this means is that Facebook will start to give more visibility to interesting news articles, story links and current events than ever before.

Your response should be to start posting attention-grabbing health articles from news publishers, or compelling stories from your own blog. The goal of course is to create conversation among your fans and clients.

If you can achieve that, your Facebook posts will be bumped higher up on your fans’ news feed and engagement will increase significantly.

2.  Host Video Events

A fun way to increase engagement with fans is by bringing live video events to your Facebook page. You can do this easily by installing a free app such as Livestream, (go to

The chat feature on Livestream makes it more interactive with your audience. So let’s say you want to introduce a new skin care system. Using the app, you can host an event on your Facebook page to show fans how the program works. They can see you, ask questions, and interact with you right there on your Facebook page!

3.  Offer Contests and Giveaways

Promotions of any kind are fantastic way to increase engagement on Facebook. That’s because everyone loves the opportunity of winning something special.

Use a photo contest app like Strutta that allows fans to upload images. Then encourage them to tell their friends about the contest and open the voting up to everyone who has submitted a photo.

A few things to watch out for when it comes to Facebook contests – follow the rules; keep the contest requirements simple; and offer a special prize that’s relevant to your practice.

4. Games

If you want to improve engagement on your page without spending a ton of money, then social games are one way to go. Social games on Facebook can spur comments, likes and shares and also help to build a community around your page.

The important thing is to choose a game that is consistent with your brand and that your fans will enjoy. For example the “Tell a Story” game is a good one for dermatology pages.

The game is similar to those books you read that let you choose what happens next. It is also appropriate since you can co-create a story with your Facebook fans thus making them the ‘stars of the show’ .” Here’s one version of the game.

Simply create a graphic that shares the first sentence of a story like this: “Once upon a time a young lady called Celia woke up on her wedding day to find a huge zit on her face!”

Then right below the story opener, write down the instructions for participating in the game as follows:

  • What happens next?
  • To participate, simply write the next sentence in a comment below.
  • Make sure you read the comments above yours so you know where the story is leading.
  • Share the story thread with your friends to keep things moving
  • Let’s see where this goes!

5.  Recognize your fans

Your Facebook fans like to know that you appreciate them. Every so often get into the habit of recognizing them for various reasons e.g. birthdays, ‘fan of the week,’ and so on.

If you want to be a little creative you might even consider posting a fan’s picture on your page (with permission of course!) and featuring them for a week. During that time, you can highlight something new about them, or let them give tips and advice about skin care!

 6.  Be Personal

Last but not least, people like to know that they’re interacting with a person, not a business. So when you post an update on Facebook, sign off with your first name so your fans and clients know whom they’re talking to. That way, the next time they stop by your office they’ll know exactly how to carry on the conversation with that person. In the same way, address them individually as “you” and “your” rather than using a plural salutation.

Creating engagement on your Facebook page doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. With some imagination you can use any one of these ideas (or come up with your own) to encourage participation from your fans so they’ll see more of your posts on their news feed.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these ideas on your page? What other ideas have worked for you?

5 Twitter Tips for Medical Professionals

Twitter. It’s a great tool for social media marketing if you know how to use it. But medical professionals and doctors may be resistant to using Twitter for a variety of reasons.

One is that they really don’t have the time to sit behind a computer desk and ‘tweet’ when they have real patients to take care of. Another reason doctors might resist Twitter is that it appears to be too disorganized, unstructured, and difficult to monitor.

But doctors who are expert Twitter-users will tell you that Twitter is worth taking the time to figure out especially because of its potent ability to amplify your voice above and beyond your current audience.

Here are 5 tips to help you start tweeting successfully:

#1. Be the expert that you are

As a medical professional, you have to be careful about the content that you share. Never, ever post any kind of patient information. Remember that Twitter is a public site and everything you share will leave a permanent trace on Google. Offer your expert knowledge and information that interests your target audience. Also be sure to provide relevant links to posts and articles that are pertinent to your work. Educate!

#2. Know your audience

Are you a pediatrician? Understand that your audience is comprised mostly of parents with young children and also other doctors or students with related interests. Once you understand who your audience is, then share with them information that helps and educates them.

#3. Keep it simple

Speak to the everyday person. Don’t use medical jargon and big words on Twitter. A new mom may not know the jargon that you know and might quickly tune out or lose interest in your message. By using vocabulary that most people understand you can reach a larger audience.

#4. Be relevant

Make sure your posts provide interesting and valuable information to your followers. They will appreciate your efforts and retweet your posts. This is an important step in building your community. By providing significant information to your target audience your followers will suggest your Twitter feed to other people with similar interests.

#5. Reach out to other professionals

Follow other healthcare professionals with similar audiences. Share information and possibly work together on creating educational articles. Retweet their information, and they will retweet yours. But be aware that Twitter can be a time-waster if you don’t know what you’re doing. So be sure to follow only those who add value to your work and feel free to ignore all others.

Key Takeaway

Twitter may seem to be an overwhelming and unstructured environment when you first start out. With time and patience you will discover that it is one of the best ecosystems on the Internet to discover and interact with interesting people in your field, as well as to amplify your own voice and reach a much bigger audience than you would have otherwise. For doctors, it is a great place to educate and share important information with your community.

Over to you: What kind of content do you usually share on Twitter?

3 Steps to Building Patient Personas for Content Marketing

In content marketing and social media you want to make sure you’re engaging with the right people.

So for example an OB-GYN practice using Facebook, Twitter, and a blog to bring in more patients should make sure they’re engaging with women of child-bearing age within their geographical area. They shouldn’t bother having conversations with young men, or people living across the country.

If you’re marketing this particular practice you’ll need to consider the different types of patients to target: pregnant and non-pregnant women; married and single mothers; middle aged women and teen-aged girls and so on.

The point is you want to have a crystal-clear understanding of your community in order to have relevant conversations with them, inform, educate and seek their trust.

That level of understanding comes from building patient personas.

What is a patient persona?

A patient persona represents a cluster of patients within a particular service line, who have the same health needs, exhibit the same behavioral patterns, attitudes, lifestyle choices, motivations and even use of technology.

So for example a quick analysis of Type 2 diabetic patients at an inner-city hospital in Baltimore may show that they are typically over 45, obese or over-weight, do not exercise, have high-blood pressure, are members of certain racial or ethnic groups, and spend a lot of time on their smart phones.

How do you get such detailed information about patients?

Keep reading…

How patient personas are built (step-by-step)

#1. Conduct interviews

Conduct one-on-one interviews using a ‘large enough’ sample (based on your resources) of the targeted audience. Ideally the interview would be a frank and friendly conversation, lasting about 30 minutes, and aimed at gathering the following information:

  • Demographics (age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, education, and so on.)
  • Service line e.g. gynecology or obstetrics
  • Stage in patient life-cycle
  • Challenges or frustrations
  • Health needs and interests
  • Digital use frequency (i.e. how often a person uses search or social media)
  • Healthcare digital use frequency (i.e. how often a person uses search or social media to access healthcare content)
  • Preferred healthcare content delivery format (i.e. digital, print, audio, video etc.)
  • General narrative about the patient’s life circumstances
  • And more.

#2. Organize the data

Once you’ve gathered all this data, divide into 2 or 3  groups that display similar characteristics. For the OB-GYN practice one group might be for married, pregnant women planning for a C-section. Another group might be for young, single women who are sexually active, but do not want to get pregnant. Each of these groups is a persona.

Keep in mind though that the number of personas you build depends on the number of service lines. A cancer center may have more than eight personas to fit the different types of cancer patients (breast, lung, skin, colon etc.) and their care givers.

#3. Summarize personas

Summarize each persona in a worksheet. Give your persona a label such as ‘Teenaged Tina’ or ‘Expectant Elizabeth’ and stick a fictitious picture at the top of the worksheet. Labels and pictures are useful for characterization and clarity when communicating with your content marketing team. Remember that you cannot use real names or photos as this violates patient privacy according to HIPAA regulations.

So the next time you sit down to write an article about teenage pregnancy, ask yourself “What would Teenaged Tina want to know about this subject? Review ‘her’ persona and then write an article that addresses specific needs or frustrations without dispensing specific medical advice.

Over to you: Need help building patient personas for your content marketing program? Let’s talk. Shoot me an email at

DHC issues 7 Healthcare Social Media Guidelines

“We’re not going to sit around as you drag your feet on the issue of healthcare social media content,” is what the DHC (Digital Health Coalition) appears to be telling the FDA.

Tired of waiting for the government agency to provide much-needed and long-awaited social media guidance to healthcare digital marketers, DHC (a group of 60 drug and digital health industry organizations led by Marc Brad, formerly of Manhattan Research) – have taken it upon themselves to get the job done.

DHC issues much-needed healthcare social media guidelines

In a meeting that took place in NYC on February 6, 2012 the group which includes big pharma names such as Merck, Roche, AstraZeneca, Lilly, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, along with partnering agencies, Edelman and Digitas Health issued 7 Social Guiding Principles for digital healthcare marketers:

#1. Participate in Social Media

Regulated healthcare companies should endeavor to participate in social media as a means to promote public health, improve patient outcomes and facilitate productive patient-doctor relationships.

#2. Regulated companies not responsible for user-generated content

Regulated healthcare companies are not responsible for user-generated content online that they do not control. Regulated healthcare companies are deemed to “control” health and medical content if:

  • it owns such health and medical content and has material editorial authority or
  • it paid for the creation of such content and has material editorial authority over such content.

#3. Adverse events reporting guidelines

Regulated healthcare companies have a responsibility to report adverse events they become aware of. Regulated healthcare companies should follow the existing adverse event reporting rules in place at the FDA.

#4. Employee disclosure

Employees of regulated healthcare companies should disclose their material company relationship when posting comments/content or engaging in an online conversation relating to a company product or relevant healthcare issue.

#5. Timely communication response

Regulated healthcare companies should endeavor to respond to questions on sites they control within a reasonable period of time, and to implement reasonable measures to enable timely responses to crisis and emergency situations.

#6. Correct misinformation

Regulated healthcare companies should endeavor to make reasonable efforts to correct misinformation that is factually incorrect.

#7. Represent best interests of online patients

Regulated healthcare companies should endeavor to appoint employee(s) tasked with the role of “patient liaison” focused on representing the best interests of the patient online.

Key Takeaway

The idea behind this initiative was to get the conversation started about how the healthcare industry can evolve in the area of social media content. But it’s also a bold and admirable way of telling the government, “It’s not your job to tell us how to use social media to market our products.”

Given the feeble and failed attempt that the FDA made last December to respond to this issue, I believe DHC has positioned themselves as the guiding force in this important discussion.

What do you think: Will these guidelines issued by DHC change the conversations about healthcare social media or will the FDA have their say on the matter?

7 Consumer Online Trends that Impact Healthcare Marketing: 2013 Research

Are you a healthcare marketer who is interested in consumer online trends?

Would you like to know how online health seekers could impact your marketing efforts in 2013?

In this article I examine a recent report published by Pew Research, in which 3,014 adults living in the U.S. were surveyed to find out how and why they use the Internet to answer their healthcare questions.

Here are 7 of the most interesting findings from the study:

#1. 1 in 3 U.S. adults use the Internet to diagnose a medical condition

35% of American adults said they go online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. These were referred to in the report as ‘online diagnosers.’ Based on the information gathered 53% of online diagnosers said they went on to speak with a doctor about what they found online.

Key Takeaway: A significant number of American adults start their health inquiries online. If the answers they’re looking for are on your website, chances are pretty good that they will follow up with you to discuss their medical condition. Make sure that your website is frequently updated with fresh content that provides answers to common questions patients might ask.

#2. 8 out of 10 online health questions start at search engine

77% of online health seekers said they begin their research at a search engine i.e. Google, Bing or Yahoo. Another 13% said they start at a site that provides specialized health information such as WebMD. Only 1% start their research on Facebook or other social networking sites.

Key Takeaway: It’s not enough to have a website these days. You need to make sure that your website is found when people search for specific health information online. Learn how to use the Google Keyword Tool to optimize your content so that people can easily find the information they’re looking for on your website. Also consider starting a Google+ community to educate people about their health. Google will reward you with a high search rank just for having a community of your own!

#3. 1/2 of online health questions are on behalf of someone else

39% of online health seekers said they looked for information on behalf of someone else. However another 15%  of users said they were looking for information for themselves and for someone else. Parents were more likely than non-parents to look for information on behalf of someone else i.e. their children.

Key Takeaway: A growing number of adults act as caregivers to someone else in the family. When creating content for your website or blog don’t forget about them. Be sure to write articles that are relevant and helpful to them. If you’re not sure what kind of content resonates with caregivers you’ll find it worth your time and resources to hire a consultant to help you develop specific personas or profiles for content marketing.

#4. Specific diseases dominate people’s online questions

55% of online health seekers said they looked online for information about a specific disease or medical treatment in the last twelve months. The study also found that women were more likely than men to search for specific health information, as were internet users with higher levels of education.

Key Takeaway: As people look to more specific information about medical conditions and treatments, specialists in different categories should research and leverage exact search terms that are most popular among searchers.

Understand too the difference between general phrases e.g. eczema and long-tail phrases e.g. ‘cures for eczema’. Usually long-tail phrases pull a much lower search volume than general phrases. But this could work to your advantage. If your goal is to attract a specific type of audience, using long-tail search terms will filter off less relevant searchers, and focus on more precise consumer profiles for your brand.

#5. Young adults & minorities lead in mobile health information search

One of the more interesting findings from the study showed that Latinos, African-Americans,  people between the ages of 18 and 49, and those with some college education used their phones more to access health or medical information online. These groups accounted for 31% of U.S. adults who own a cell phone.

Image Source: Pew Research

Key Takeaway: A person’s likelihood to use their cell phone for health information search is amplified by the demographic factors mentioned above. This is key for marketers who target specific demographic audiences. It’s not enough to understand their pain points. It is equally important to know their digital habits particularly for consuming health information. For practices that target these groups, mobile content optimization should be a critical part of your marketing plan.

#6. Consumers not that interested in online reviews

Pew has been tracking the use of consumer reviews since 2000. They found that while 8 in 10 users say they have researched a product or service online, only 1 in 5 users have used online reviews and rankings of healthcare service providers and treatments. In fact the use of online reviews dipped between 2010 and 2012. Only 18% use online reviews today compared to 24% in 2010.

Key Takeaway: This is good news for healthcare marketers who worry that negative reviews might ruin their brand. But it still doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of providing excellent services and ensuring customer satisfaction .

If you see a negative online review of your brand be sure to address the complaint promptly and offer a solution that will satisfy the consumer. This will show other searchers that you are a caring brand. However don’t get too bent out of shape if the situation doesn’t end the way you want. Remember that consumers are not as focused on reviews as you are, so let it go.

#7. 1 in 4 searches have hit a “pay wall”

26% of online health searchers said they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. 73% have not faced this choice. But of those who were asked to pay, only 2% did so while 83% hit a pay wall and tried to find the same information somewhere else. Another 13% of those who hit a pay wall just gave up searching altogether.

Key Takeaway: This is a tricky one. Not all health information can be given away for free. Oftentimes healthcare researchers and marketers work hard to develop ‘expert’ content and they are justified in selling this information.

But you also don’t want to lose audiences who may not be able to pay. One option is to use ‘teaser content’.  Allowing the reader to access a small portion of the report and then requiring payment to download the full report, may persuade a person to pay based on the little they’ve already have seen. Another strategy is to write a short blog post about the overall report. While this does not reveal specifics it may help to keep readers from drifting away to other sites.

Over to you: Which of these findings did you find most interesting or insightful? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

How People Search for Online Healthcare content

There’s three things that you should understand about your searchers on the Internet:

#1.They are impatient! They will not waste time wading through pages and pages of results after their first query. They want the best results in the shortest amount of time.

#2. Generally they don’t go beyond the first page of the SERP. They would much rather refine their search than go through more pages of less relevant results.

#3. They search for content in three different ways:

Navigational search

A navigational search has a very specific query

Your searcher is expecting only one result and their query has a very specific and targeted intent. They’ve visited your website before or they know that your organization exists. And so they go straight to your website by entering the url e.g. ‘’ or they Google the term ‘baltimore medical system’.

Informational search

Here your searcher is doing some kind of research (e.g. for high-blood pressure treatment) and is not sure exactly what they will find. Their query might produce articles, drug information, images, video clips, and a variety of other content. Your searcher may or may not find all this content relevant but will still wade through some of it as he tries to determine what he needs.

Transactional search

Your searcher is looking for some kind of interaction on the Internet. He may want to buy a book, join a discussion forum, or find directions to your facility. In this case the searcher is looking for a very specific kind of interaction and is willing to take the time to explore different sites until he finds it.

How search engines respond

In all three cases, the searcher has an idea of what he is looking for and he has some expectation of the kind of content that will satisfy him.

On the other side of the equation is the search engine (Google), whose goal is to find the most relevant content for your searcher’s query. Search engines understand that people want the latest news and the most recent content.

As they set out to determine the most relevant content for a person’s query, they analyze and measure the updating activity on websites across the Internet! The more frequently a website is updated, the more often the search engine checks back to see what’s new.

Sites such as Yahoo!Health and WebMD are analyzed continuously because they’re updated constantly. Hence the frequency of attention from search engines reduces as website content remains static. To the search engine this is a sign that the site is irrelevant – like an old abandoned house.

A static website with old content is as relevant as an abandoned house

In this list of the Top 15 Most Popular Healthcare Websites – Feb 2012, notice that every site on the list is updated daily.

How you should respond

This is really good news for you as a healthcare marketer because your searchers are telling you what they want. They want you to:

Your job is to engage your audience with every piece of content that you produce and to do so consistently.

Key takeaway

All this creates the need to develop a content marketing strategy that attracts and retains the people that you want to reach (or the people that are looking for you online). With your content strategy you should be able to pre-empt the queries that your searchers have and to create content around those search terms. In other words, you need to create engagement and relevance.

Over to you: Are searchers finding your content online? If so, how are you creating engagement and relevance through your content?

Mobile Health Opportunities in Kenya

After twelve years of being away, I’m spending some time in Kenya getting re-acquainted with the land of my birth.

I marvel at some of the advances this ‘developing’ country has made in the last decade – mainly in technology and infrastructure. For starters, the adoption and use of cell phones is remarkable. By mid-2011 mobile penetration was over 63%. That means that 25 million out of a 38.6 million Kenyans owned a mobile phone last year.

Mobile-Healthcare Marketing

Sadly while mobile technology is advancing in Kenya, healthcare services are not moving at the same pace. The ratio of doctors to patients in Kenya is 6 to 1000. Even worse, the lack of public information on essential healthcare services makes it easier for poor people to suffer and die of very treatable diseases.

It therefore makes sense that mobile technology is the logical way to provide basic healthcare information to Kenyans. One local company that is exploring this opportunity is Shimba Technologies. Last Fall, they launched MedAfrica an app that positions itself as the go-to-resource for connected Kenyans seeking health-related information.

MedAfrica app provides health-related content in developing countries

MedAfrica is still in beta and is currently acting as a yellow pages for medical services by providing listings of doctors in local areas. Unfortunately their website doesn’t offer much content that can provide more details about the app.

The Gap

Based on my personal observations, apps such as MedAfrica are more beneficial to smart-phone carrying city-folk looking for reputable healthcare services in Kenya. Country folk – the poor majority that lacks access to essential public health information – typically carry simple phones such as the Nokia 1280. Such phones don’t have the capability to support mobile app technology. They are more suited to SMS and in some cases even MMS mobile campaigns.

The Opportunity

Mobile marketing companies wishing to reach and impact the greatest number of Kenyans with healthcare information need to recognize the differences in mobile equipment and consider the limitations of various devices and/or platforms. That way they can target different markets with campaigns that are relevant and useful to them.

The MedAfrica app – a great idea-in-the-making – may not have as great an impact on those who are dying (excuse the pun) for essential health-related information because it is limited to Android and Symbian platforms. Mobile marketing companies need to explore simpler campaigns that are easily accessible on simple mobile phones in order to reach the masses.

Over to you: What ideas or tips do you have for mobile marketing companies looking to reach developing countries such as Kenya?

Attracting Digital Consumers to Healthcare

Relevance! It is the end-all-be-all for today’s digital consumer.

When making a purchasing decision digital consumers are looking for content that is highly relevant to their current situations and needs.

A report from Bazaarvoice found that more than half of digital consumers consider online content created by other users before recommendations from family, friends or colleagues. Fifty-one percent said the presence of reviews and other user-generated content on a website helps them get a better understanding of a product or service’s true value.

Aside from reviews, their shopping decisions are influenced by endorsements and user feedback posted by friends, followers and other contacts on social networks. According to Bazaarvoice, 42 percent of respondents reported that content shared on Facebook, Twitter or another social network is frequently the reason they decide for or against a purchase or service provider.

Generating more UCG for healthcare

The term “User-Generated Content” (UGC) refers to any content created and uploaded by users to  an organization’s platform. UGC ranges from Flickr photos, YouTube videos, blog comments, Twitter posts and reviews on Yelp or Amazon.

As consumer reviews become more and more important in informing and influencing other customers’ decisions, they are also becoming a prominent marketing tactic. In healthcare, UGC would take the form of patient reviews, client surveys, medical blogs,community boards, question and answer forums and so on.

Tips to encourage and improve healthcare UGC

  1. Facilitate quick and easy responses. Users want to contribute content in a convenient and frictionless fashion. If the process of contributing content is difficult, it’s likely your visitors will not participate. For example patients should be able to complete a survey rating their hospital experience with a few clicks.
  2. To encourage participation remove any barriers in your site design. This could be anything from hard-to-find comment box, a multi-step sign-up process, or a lack of clear and visible instructions. Any of these points will give your visitor good enough reason to leave your site and find one that is more user-friendly.
  3. Give away incentives (once in a while). Contests with rewards, freebies and giveaways, sometimes work very well to encourage engagement. Be creative but don’t rely too much on such tactics as users could get too used to them. A good idea is to customize your rewards to holidays and special occasions.
  4. Make your content “share-able” on social media sites. Content that is shareable and share-worthy is interesting to users and is quickly passed along from one to many consumers. The more eyeballs that fall on your content the more likely that reviews related to your services will be shared as well.
  5. Moderate your content. Thank patients and contributors for their feedback. Reply promptly to questions on your discussion board, and encourage other users to answer questions whenever they’re able to. This creates a sense of community amongst users and gives them a feeling of ownership in the content.
  6. Keep conversations relevant and interesting. People like to talk about interesting stories. Be sure to initiate discussions that are relevant to your users so that they in turn can contribute their own experiences on that particular subject.

Over to you: What’s your take? What other ideas could you add to this list?

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.

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?