Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pew's Numbers are Whew! Numbers

The Pew Foundation recently issued another of their insightful studies on the Internet and Health entitled, “The Social Life of Health Information.” It is chock-full of amazing numbers:

61% of adults now look for health information vs. only 25% in 2000 (Pew calls these people e-patients)

60% of e-patients said they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the Internet vs. only 31% in 2006.

45% of Internet users have looked online for information about Rx or OTC drugs vs. 34% in 2002

60% of e-patients (37% of US adults) have done at least one of eleven social media activities related to health care such as reading blogs, posting comments or consulting on-line rankings of physicians

While the absolute numbers are impressive, it is the rapid pace of change that really grabbed my attention. According to the study, we can expect this forward momentum to continue, particularly in regards to the adoption of social media based on two trends they spotted:

Mobile technology is associated with deeper engagement in social media” and is expected to rise in the coming years

· •• , • Adults, 18-49, are more likely to engage in social technologies related to health than other demographics and will inevitably start experiencing health issues in the next few years

Hopefully, Pew’s numbers will help strengthen marketers’ resolve to start experimenting with social media. So often I hear, “My target isn’t using social media yet. When they do, I’ll think about a social media plan.” True, there is a lot of hype around social media. We may well be in what the Gartner Group calls “the Peak of Inflated Expectations” phase of their famous technology Hype Cycle, but that doesn’t mean marketers can’t wade through the hype to produce meaningful results.

Consider adopting the approach of “serious experimentation/managed expectations” that C.S. Rollyson describes in his socialmedia.biz post. Using lessons from the Web 1.0 bust/boom cycle, Rollyson predicts that social media will start gaining significant traction in 2011 and beyond.

And just like Web 1.0 before it, he predicts that the techniques of Web 2.0 will become mainstream. The time is now for innovator companies to begin an aggressive, yet thoughtful approach to building their social media competency. As Rollyson points out, “Imagine if you had realized the Internet’s full potential in 1995, and you had invested with that purpose in mind. This is the opportunity that executives have today with Web 2.0.”

1) The experiments are strategically relevant to the brand

2) Clear expectations are set about how the initiative will change consumer behavior

In the case of health care, will your initiative encourage positive talk about a brand? Increase patient knowledge about a condition? Or, drive the consumer to ask a particular question about the availability of a new treatment option?

Certainly, it makes sense to think critically about all the hype surrounding social media. Social media alone won’t solve all the problems healthcare marketers face. And it won’t be a wholesale replacement for today’s media or even take the place of other important sources of healthcare information, such as physicians, family and friends.

But if the Pew study teaches us anything, it is that consumers have an insatiable interest in health information and are rapidly embracing Web 2.0 to satisfy their non-stop need to know.

Marketers just have to match that passion with an equally strong conviction to provide the right information.



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