How to use social media as a marketing tool for your support group?
You run support groups – it could be weight loss or diabetes control or helping people deal with stress and trauma.
Can social media help you reach out to more people – and will it help you be more successful in your business and in your practice?
In this post – we’ll talk about the business case for using social media in your support group practice
Any business case needs to consider both the demand side and supply side of your product or service. Demand side – means getting more people to use your services and supply side means making you more effective.
Social media is primarily used today as a powerful direct and often viral marketing tool. Support group leaders are justifiably concerned about the relevance of social media to their professional practice when viewed in this context.
However – social media has tremendous potential to improve care that goes far beyond marketing. When used as a tool for sharing content, the business case shifts from a marketing tool to a tool that helps you make easier and faster decisions.
It’s useful to start by looking at some of the lessons learned in application of social media to pharmaceutical marketing since physicians are key players in the pharmaceutical world and in the clinical world.
Social media in pharmaceutical marketing – lessons learned
From the perspective of large healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies, patients are consumers and doctors and phamacists are a distribution channel for products and services. Not pleasant perhaps, but a fact nonetheless. Doctors are a distribution channel for medication.
Because of the consumer orientation of Facebook and Twitter, it is a natural assumption that social media is a great above-the-line media channel designed to to pull demand through the distribution channel of doctors and pharmacists.
There are however some threats to this thesis:
Marketing: Although the importance of healthcare organizations and public agencies as prescriber-influencers has grown, pharmas are still strong users of traditional door-to-door marketing using medical representatives to influence doctors to prescribe their products to end user patients. Excluding OTC (over the counter products), pharma customers are doctors not end users consumers.
Social media is not necessarily a good fit for marketing drugs to doctors because the direct and personal interaction between medical sales representatives is still quite important:
- Doctors like the attention of a face to face meeting, getting the free samples and invites to conferences from a rep
- A rep can customize the message to a doctor and work hard on her quota; ggressively marketing a drug by suggesting that a higher dosage or additional indications are possible (off label promotion). This is not official policy and it’s normally done by industry experts who are not employed directly by the pharma but it’s still an option in a face to face meeting – for example suggesting to a dialysis center that they should stock up on EPO…
- It is not PC to say this, but sex sells. Good looks are a big asset for a medical sales rep or physician. A good looking female rep will win hands down over a blog any day of the week.
Regulatory: Then there is the matter of food and drug safety and regulations against off-label marketing.
Social media use of user-generated content is not a necessarily a good fit for the pharmaceutical companies:
- Marketing materials used by a medical representative are prepared and approved by the product manager, scientific and marketing staff and legal staff.
- This highly controlled approach to content is diametric to the wisdom of crowds and “user generated content” found in social media like Facebook or Twitter.
Doctors: Doctors are indeed customers of pharmaceutial companies but the physician community is diverse in it’s disciplines and requirements.
Social media may indeed be a great fit for physicians when cast in the role of a social model of learning.
- Specialists such as nephrologists are highly multi-disciplinary and may be interested in getting specific pharmacokinetic data whereas the pediatrician down the hall will have just enough time to take a free sample and hear about new pipeline. This is an opportunity for nuanced sharing of data using controlled social networks.
- Not every doctor has time to read New England Journal of Medicine in the evening after work but some doctors may be active teachers and researchers. This is an opportunity for social models of learning.
Where do we go from here?
It seems apparent from the above discussion that doctors can indeed make good use of social media in a remote learning role vis-a-vis pharmaceutical companies. But, what about the next step in the supply chain, the patients?
If you’re a physician and you want to make the most of social media for your medical practice, then you need a business case because it’s your dime.
Social media is a cellphone 15 years ago. It’s new technology for communications and collaboration.
To use social media well in healthcare it’s not a question of age: young doctors getting it and older doctors not getting it. Specialists like cardiologists and endocrinologists are as high-tech as it gets and family doctors are used to patients coming in with a (often correct) self-diagnosis from Dr Google.
It’s about sharing (face to face or online) with people we care for. The media and technology should not get in the way.
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