Friday, July 31, 2009

Online Hospitals and Social Media: The Prognosis Looks Good

Every once in a while you come across something that demonstrates that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.

In this case the old dog is hospital marketing. Which is why a story I just read at almost made me giddy:

Late last month, the Mayo Clinic used Twitter to announce the forthcoming release of a study on Celiac disease. Then it studied who "retweeted" the story, and from those people, it carefully selected a few it deemed qualified enough to get an exclusive look at the actual study. These people – all patients – were then allowed to blog about the study in their own voices. At the same time, the hospital posted a video and audio clips about the study on its own blog, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The Mayo Clinic clearly understands the importance of developing a dynamic online presence. And how to achieve it. (Although it doesn't take a brain surgeon.) The practice of mixing healthcare with social media has been in practice for a while. Online colleges have always had strong online presences to communicate with students. Many of these colleges offer health science programs and these colleges have done an especially good job of maintaining active social media policies to provide medical information online. But healthcare marketing has gone even farther than traditional social media.

The article also tells of a recent analysis of medical information on the virtual reality platform Second Life, where the researchers found 68 health-related sites alone. These include everything from education tools to information clinics. There's even the Ann Meyers Medical Center, which is run by real-life doctors and nurses and demonstrates how women can perform their own breast exams.

It appears that more hospitals are finally realizing that patients are increasingly turning to the Internet in their search for information and are providing them with not just that, but something perhaps even more important:

An experience.


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Friday, July 24, 2009

Communing With God in 140 Characters or Less

Holy Twit!

While the debate rages here on Earth about whether or not top executives should use Twitter, it appears that the CEO of the Universe has opened an account of his own.

According to the BBC, Jews from all over the world are now sending prayers in the form of tweets to a gentleman in Jerusalem, who prints them out and places them in the Wailing Wall, with all of the more traditionally planted ones.

(In Jewish tradition, prayers hand-written on scraps of paper are stuffed into the little nooks between the 2,000 year-old stones that make up Judaism's holiest prayer site.)

Aron Nil says he got the idea for the service after seeing what a powerful tool Twitter was in helping the Iranian people share their recent post-election turmoil with the rest of the world.

He started only three weeks ago, and already he's overwhelmed by the number of tweets he has received. More than 1,000 are still waiting to be read. "I'm swamped. I can't keep up with all the tweets," he told the Associated Press.

And some people say Twitter doesn't have a prayer.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Social Media Reaches New Heights

By now you probably have seen – or at least heard about – "United Breaks Guitars", the viral video posted on YouTube just over a week ago by a little-known country singer whose $3400 Taylor guitar had been broken beyond repair by the airline's baggage handlers.

What you probably didn't know is that the video has already garnered more than 3.2 million views and 14,000 comments. Not to mention free guitars from Taylor, an apology from United, and a response video from the song's creator.

What is it about the video that has struck such a note with the public? Perhaps it's our collective loathing of all things airline-related. But I sense there's more to it than that.

For one thing, the song, while expressing anger at the irresponsiveness of the airline, does it in an extremely gentle, very likable way. There's nothing mean-spirited about it. It's all done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. In fact, in his follow-up video, the singer, Dave Carroll, tells us that United has offered to make amends and he suggests that they make a contribution to a charity of their choice. He also tells the viewers who have been calling one of the United employees mentioned in the song to ease up on her, that she was only doing her job.

But he also promises that two more videos about the incident are still on their way.

I suggest that United beat him to it by putting out a video of its own. It should use humor to show some humility and admit that its employees are human. That everyone makes mistakes.

And it should do it with feeling.


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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pharma May Not Win the Race, But At Least It's Finally Putting the Rubber to the Road

Recently, I was asked my thoughts about the Novo Nordisk-sponsored Twitter feed, Race with Insulin, which features the tweets of a race car driver named Charlie Kimball. Charlie is traveling to races across America as part of Team Type 1, a group of Type 1 Diabetics out to demonstrate that people can live active lives with diabetes.

What is notable to the Pharma social media community is that Charlie’s tweets mention the Novo Nordisk’s product Levemir® FlexPen®. Fair balance is listed on the side of Charlie’s page and also appears one click away in the tweet, itself.

The effort has been criticized for it’s stilted voice as well as the limited value it provides to the community. While these criticisms ring true, I applaud Novo for taking the first brave, bold step! It is not easy to be an innovator in Pharma.

One reason not to pile on to all the negative criticism is that branded Twitter executions will evolve towards a more meaningful use of the medium. One just has to look at the Pharma corporate Twitter sites, which are just now starting to evolve from PR news feeds to having a more personal voice such as in the Boerhinger feed.

The evolution will be so slow it will resemble kabuki theater, a (to my eye) painfully slow-moving form of 17th century Japanese entertainment. And yes, Pharma’s attempts will pale in comparison to the efforts of our non-regulated marketing brethren. But slowly and surely, it will evolve.

The evolution has to occur or the social media world for Pharma will continue to be a very lonely place. At the time of this post, Charlie Kimball has only 248 followers. Examples of similar initiatives from outside the industry can help point the way towards a more engaging and truly social way of using the medium.

In June, I found myself inspired about such possibilities at the OMMA Social conference, which featured a terrific “Corporate Tweeters” panel featuring Tweeters from Six Flags, Comcast, H&R Block and Duncan Donuts. These companies centered their efforts on providing either 1) customer service or 2) entertainment.

Customer service is a natural. Consumers are using social media to complain about products, so why not use the medium to respond? This is the approach that H&R Block and Comcast have taken. A typical tweet for H&R Block goes something like this, “Saw your tweet, anything I can do to help?”

According to Denise Sposato, Director of Communities at H&R Block, they were able to “…build a great community around an unsexy category.” One of H&R Block’s biggest lessons learned was that for their critically important service, people want less entertainment and more education. So their social media efforts included Vlogs by tax analysts. Turning to Pharma, how about a Vlog from a company physician?

Comcast offers a host of customer service people on Twitter that go by monikers like ComcastBill or ComcastBonnie. According to Frank Eliason, Director of Digital Care at Comcast, the real-time information afforded by Twitter can be invaluable. Thanks to Twitter, a major problem was surfaced within 3 minutes of its occurrence, enabling the development of a response before most of the Comcast customers had any inkling there was something wrong.

The other tack companies took in using Twitter was pure fun and entertainment. Six Flags Billy keeps people engaged through Twitter-driven events such as “Funnel Cake Fridays” and “Twitter Hunts” in their theme parks. What’s to stop a Pharma brand from having a Fitness Friday or a Healthy Munching Monday as a way of engaging people towards better health?

The approach needs to grow out of the brand. According to Ms. Sposato, H&R Block’s participation strategy is rooted in the brand’s heritage of the informal conversations people used to have with H&R Block co-founder, Henry Block.

Whatever strategy is chosen, company management needs to be prepared in advance to expect a little “flame throwing.” The negative always surfaces first, according to Carole Walker, Vice President of Integrated Marketing at M&M Mars, who I heard speak in February at an ANA panel about their social media-powered Skittles website. After a while, she said, things settle down and most people are quite complimentary and reasonable.

It is important to note that most of the companies I heard speak had been working at social media for some time. H&R Block’s efforts began a full 18 months ago. So while it is important to note Race with Insulin’s shortcomings, it’s even more important that we keep the flame burning for social media in Pharma.


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Thursday, July 9, 2009

It's Official: Advertising is Dead

Well, maybe that's an overstatement.

But if you consider which campaigns won the most awards at this year's Cannes ad festival – the ultimate advertising show on the planet – you'll have to admit the business has certainly changed in a very short time.

The most highly coveted prize, the Film Grand Prix, went to a video that wasn't made for television.

And guess which campaign broke the record for winning the most Grand Prix in a single festival?

It was the PR campaign, mentioned right here in a recent Extrovertic post, for Queensland, Australia, which won the festival's first PR Grand Prix, as well as the top prizes in the direct and cyber categories.

Another big winner was the Obama/Biden campaign which won the titanium and integrated Grand Prix awards. This decentralized, open-source, grass roots effort proved to the world that when it comes to social media, "Yes, we can."

But it also proved to the advertising awards crowd, "Yes, we Cannes."


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