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How social media insights can help answer your health business questions

There is no disputing the value of social media insights in health, though it is still generally not embedded and utilized in the daily business of most health companies. Primarily, companies stay away from the internet to avoid becoming aware of adverse events regarding their own products. And if they do listen to what is said on the internet, they have another challenge: getting the best out of the discussions and then turning those insights into actions. That is a missed opportunity, as online postings and discussions in the social media domain can be a great source of real-world data that is so valuable in the evolving health landscape.

For instance, older consumers (50+), who are more vulnerable to diseases, are quickly adopting social media (e.g., 70% is already connected to Facebook).1 We also know that most adults trust medical information shared by peers in their social media networks. Blogs, forums and online platforms have evolved into trusted sources for sharing personal experiences related to medical conditions and diseases and for discussions on unmet needs, treatments and drug-related topics.

The big advantage is that social media data add insights from unprompted discussions that are missed in traditional survey research. It is real-time and contextual. It is rather flexible, not having the constraints of sampling and study design. And it is ideal for discovering, isolating and tracking issues as they emerge. So, when interpreting and structuring the data, you might well be gaining valuable real world-evidence insights.

However, most health companies are still struggling to harvest and activate the insights from social media. The issue is that while you might expect the yummy chocolate cookie in the form of a comprehensive perspective, often you will get just the crumbs and a fragmented picture. That is because social media is fraught with unstructured big data Insights. Although health issues are one of the most-discussed topics on the web, it is still like looking for the needle in the haystack. The importance of data relevance and accuracy is underestimated. Data and research integration are crucial to add value and industry-specific information is needed to put things in context.

Let us outline three examples of integrated ways how we apply social media research and answer specific health-related business issues:

  1. Social network analysis for strategic segmentation and landscape mapping

Health companies need to understand the strategic landscape first, before starting operational planning. We use network analysis to follow the connections between people, brands and media.

By mapping stakeholder groups and influencers, identifying and segmenting audience interests and affinities as well as tracking and evaluating health-related public debates, network analysis brings health companies strategic insights into the whole social ecosystem.

  1. Integrated analysis solutions for 360-degree brand equity tracking

Nowadays, digital media provides you with the ability to interact with and communicate about brands whenever you like. Brands are no longer created, managed and controlled solely by brand-directed activities, but they are also shaped through the communication between consumers, also patients and HCPs, in the digital world. Only by integrating social media information and tracking data do you get complete insights into managing your brand in an interactive world. A pre-condition for this exercise is an integrated research framework with harmonized KPIs to connect survey-based and unstructured social media data to finally make sense of both worlds.

  1. An early-warning mechanism on drug safety


Monitoring social media to identify potential key safety issues enables health companies to act quickly and early on safety issues discussed on the internet. It is not only about getting access to this real-world data on drug performance, but also having a structured and referenced approach for coding, interpretation and classification in order to get the full picture.

It’s important for healthcare companies not to relinquish the value of social media in the process of avoiding the potential risks of discovering adverse events regarding their brands. If you find yourself in such a social media dilemma, you don’t have to make the choice. Actively monitoring social media, including early signaling of any potential safe issues, can help you to securely embrace real-world discussions in social media forums that can help strengthen your brand.

1 Roper Reports US – Fall Core 2014 Study; Interview Dates: September 23 – October 27, 2014

This article was co-authored by Christian Waldheim of Social Media Intelligence.

For further information, contact Jan Guse.


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