Research: Noting the Rising Role of Social Analytics in Healthcare Research

By Iris Vermeren on March 4th 2015

Among the 50 largest drug makers in the world, more than half still aren’t actively using social media to engage healthcare consumers or patients. Most of them primarily use social media as a broadcasting channel, and no more than 10 are on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Even with drug makers’ recent increases in digital spending, the pharmaceutical industry is repeatedly said to be a laggard in adoption of social media.

Drugmakers’ common excuse for remaining social media wallflowers is largely due to the regulatory uncertainty and the doubts on how to measure social ROI.


1/ The rise of the empowered patient

With the role of social media rapidly expanding, patients are increasingly turning to popular social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and forums obtaining and sharing information related to their health.

In the US, for example, over one third of consumers manage their own health and are using social media to help them make important healthcare decisions.

The consequent empowerment of the patient in making decisions around their treatment has led them to be more aware and have a greater say in the treatment process.

But it’s not just patients who go to social media to voice their opinions. The pharma industry has multiple stakeholders who actively research and discuss online, including patients, physicians, payers, caregivers, providers and advocacy groups.

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This trend only heightens the imperative need for pharmaceutical companies and regulators to take notice and contribute to the overall healthcare discussion, particularly to the appropriate use of medicines.


But how do you actually know what physicians are saying about your drug?
Can you identify your patients’ primary concerns about your market leading product?

What are the conversation themes around managing the disease?
How does the online reputation of your brand compare to competitors?
Are patients switching brands and if so, why?


2/ Using social media as a research tool

The most immediate benefit that social media has to offer pharmaceutical companies is as a research tool.

The answers to the questions above require a more proactive embrace of social media analytics tools by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Social media analytics tools, such as Brandwatch Analytics, can mine not only Twitter but also public forums, blogs, news sites, Facebook and other social networks to uncover patients and physicians’ sentiments and opinions.

One of our clients, Creation Healthcare, did exactly such a thing not too long ago. They indexed half a million healthcare professional profiles across thousands of sites using Brandwatch Analytics to understand how treatments and products are perceived by those who may prescribe them every day.

The online market research consultancy was able to spot healthcare trends and concerns months before others did. Offering unrivaled insight into the views of healthcare professionals, Creation Healthcare’s research business attracted six times more clients than before.

Identifying the opinions of healthcare professionals and patients is, indeed, a complicated process, particularly because of the amount of noise and spam surrounding pharmaceuticals. With boolean operators and rules, you can filter out spammy websites and irrelevant views.

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3/ Using social media to foster discussions with your stakeholders

Understanding the kind of people who make up the conversation in your niche can prove far more insightful than listening only to those who mention your product or brand.

In a recent report we analyzed thousands of mentions online using social media analytics to understand people’s attitude towards HIV treatment and to inform targeted messaging.

Their target audience is often seen as being the healthcare professional. But when analyzing all HIV discussion on social media, it turns out it’s the patients, caregivers and those that actually aren’t directly affected by HIV who offer the most powerful insights.

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The general public spoke nearly three times more about HIV treatment than healthcare professionals, suggesting a general interest in the topic and that online influencers may differ from offline.

Diving deeper into this data, we noticed that the different stakeholders are chatting about HIV in entirely different places.

Data like this could dramatically impact how a drug manufacturer develops its communication strategies and targets its messaging.

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4/ Building tailored marketing strategies

As shown below, social media analytics can be applied at various stages of a drug lifecycle; right from your drug discovery stage (understanding unmet needs) to the launch (improving your brand messaging) to the maturity stage (monitoring brand reputation and intimately connecting patients and physicians).

Insights generated during each stage can be utilized across all departments in your company.

Drug Lifecycle

If you’re still analyzing the conversation about your own brand or products, then now is the time to rethink your social media activities.

While social media is not a panacea, it provides an arguably underused opportunity across the business to research, understand and boost discussions with all healthcare consumers.

There’s no such thing as having a remarkable drug without having tailored strategies to appeal to your own target audience.

Forget the mass market, segment and evaluate healthcare conversations by the different stakeholders. Find out what they are talking about online and how your organization can fit into that.



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