A recent article about crowdsourcing for advice about sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (see Requests For Diagnoses Of Sexually Transmitted Diseases On A Social Media Platform) has prompted quite the discussion about the increasingly popular use of social media for guidance about health issues. It also begs the question of how health and human service executives factor social media into consumer engagement strategies.
The study found that the number of monthly posts on Reddit about STDs have doubled in the past year – and more than a third included a photo (see When Strangers Diagnose You Online). And it’s not limited to STDs. People are using social media to ask for advice on everything from treating a baby’s mysterious rash to coping with suicidal thoughts (see The Unexpected Health Benefits Of Social Media).
The question for a provider organization’s online marketing strategy is: Why are people using social media in this way? The article, and subsequent commentary about it, pointed to a few reasons, including anonymity, which people sought to sidestep a fear of judgement. Speed was another factor—90% of the posts to the STD forum received a response in less than a day. Compare that with wait times to see a clinical professional and you might begin to understand why those who seek instant gratification are gravitating to this forum. Trust was a third reason: 20% of posts were from people who had already been diagnosed by a clinical professional and wanted a second opinion.
The important question is how do provider organizations become part of this consumer discussion? It’s not new for people to seek advice—about their health or other issues—from friends and family, says Paul M. Duck, OPEN MINDS senior associate. What is new is access to the web and all its inhabitants. “Instead of going to the oracle for all the answers, consumers are accessing social media platforms” to ask questions and share stories, he said. “Consumers have always sought advice from friends and family but “now they have access to 50,000 opinions from complete strangers across the world.”
The concept of health care consumerism isn’t new, Mr. Duck adds, but with more information online, provider organizations need to engage differently with consumers, “and they’re better equipped for shared decisionmaking so consumers feel like they’re a part of the process instead of having a doctor make all the decisions” (see The Age Of Priceline Health Care).
Organizations (and professionals) in the health and human service space need to embrace the internet and social media channels, talk with consumers about how they research health conditions, or risk becoming irrelevant. It can be argued that the internet is a source for lots of misinformation, opinions presented as facts, and bad—some might say dangerous—medical advice. From dozens of fake cancer cures on YouTube to claims that bleach is the cure for autism, there is a lot of bad information out there, but consumers use that information – and increasingly pay for products and services of questionable value. This is a challenge for high-value provider organizations as well as an opportunity.
As more information moves online about health, provider and professional reviews and ratings, referrals, and services, health and human service organizations need to become part of that circle to remain relevant. For more on online strategies, check out these resources in the OPEN MINDS Circle Library:
- The Age Of Priceline Health Care
- Making Sure Consumers And Referral Sources Can Find You Online
- Consumer Experience Is Driving Tech Investments
- Do These 6 Things Online To Ensure Consumers Find You
- Competing Requires More Than Performance – You Need A Presence
- Oh, Those Consumer Reviews
- As Online Ratings Grow, Your Online Reputation Matters More
- Will Consumers Find You After Google Implements Mobile-First Indexing?
- You Can’t Ignore Those Online Reviews – But What Can You Do?
- Can Search Engines (& Consumers) Find You? SEO & Why It’s Important
And for even more, don’t miss the “How To Develop A Successful Marketing Plan: The OPEN MINDS Seminar On Marketing Strategy” September 14, 2020 with OPEN MINDS Senior Associates Tim Snyder and Rob Hickernell.