Health Professionals in Social Media Study

We’ve done a fair bit of research for clients in the healthcare sector and one of the first questions asked by clients is “does anyone in healthcare actually use social media?” When we ask them if they use it at all, they often respond that they do themselves. It’s an odd disconnect. So we decided to look back at our data plus do some additional digging. Turns out, a lot of healthcare professionals are engaged. And not just for entertainment. Increasingly, they are using social media to connect professionally, to learn and share insights about their work (not patients.) For makers of medical equipment, pharmaceutical companies and any other supplier; this is a marketing and learning opportunity. Take note. This is just a summary of our research by the way. This research combines data from Canada, the United States and United Kingdom.

Which Profession is Engaged The Most?
The chart below provides a ranking of engagement by the professions that we found to be the most active (methodology at end of post.) By “engaged” we mean professions that identify themselves or through the specific social media channels they use. It means being active at least twice a month. What was interesting? Paramedics top the list, followed by lab techs and nurses…but med students are increasingly engaged and now on a par with nurses. Technicians are classed as x-ray, CAT-scan and similar. That might suggest that the next group of doctors and specialists coming up are going to be very engaged with these technologies. That means business opportunities. It also means educational opportunities and a suggestion that as these professions learn from each other, best practices could be improved….maybe with better outcomes for patients? That would take some more research, but we suggest it may be possible.

What Social Media Channels Do Healthcare Professionals Use?
It’s one thing to know they’re engaged. It’s another to know what tools they are using and that is telling in itself. It’s not Facebook either. The two most popular channels are forums and niche social networks (these niche SN’s are like Facebook, but are focused on one topic or industry sector, unlike Facebook which is open to anyone.) It is interesting that forums remain a key channel for engagement, as forums are older forms of social media that have been around since the late 1980′s with the old bulletin boards…and haven’t really evolved much since the late 1990′s. Microblogs such as Twitter or are used, but they tend to be more about general topics or sharing links toi relevant content, not detailed discussions about their profession; likely due to the limitation of 140 characters….which is not conducive to long medical terms by any stretch.

What About Patient Privacy?
Patient confidentiality in social media is always a hot topic and there have been a few people fired for revealing confidential patient information. From what we’ve been able to determine however, patient names are never mentioned and privacy is a concern – seems people in healthcare got that message loud and clear.

So Why Does This Matter?
As we suggested at the start of this blog post; sharing insights and experiences could play a role in improving patient care and treatments, although that would need a more empirical analysis. But it shows that people in the healthcare sector are engaged in social media and that they’re engaging on issues relating to their profession and that means opportunities for businesses to engage and for the healthcare education sector to learn and improve their offerings to the profession.

Methodology Notes
All information that we collect online is from public sources. We do not, ever, collect or analyse private information. Ever. We collect these data using our proprietary web crawler and some third party tools. The data is then analysed using our proprietary text analytics software that assesses such information as age groupings, education levels and geographic areas – again, all public. We also conduct manual verification and use statistical modelling to prepare our final results. In this instance the data was collected from the USA, Canada and UK. Sample size was 3,500 individual public accounts from each of the top professions. We determined the professions by analysis across all popular and less-known (but public) social media channels in the three countries. We collected and examined 35,000 “tweets” and postings from January 2010 to end of December 2012. The same date considerations were given for other channels. Data that was then cleaned for verification and analysis was assigned a weighting for size of profession and per capita populations in each country. Our ranking methodology is proprietary; the higher the number the more “engaged” or used.

More Data Please?
We’re a business. We have salaries to pay and costs to cover, including the bandwidth to collect the data, the storage space for that data and the processing costs. So we release what we can publicly and if an organisation wants further insights, we would be happy to provide a quotation to deliver that intelligence.  We can customise the data as you would like as well. See our contact page for details on how to get in touch.

Disinformation Warfare via Social Media

Psychological warfare (PsyOps) has long been the domain of militaries around the world for decades. Now, these tactics are becoming the domain of radical activist groups and in some cases governments in the world of digital diplomacy. We are entering a new age of “disinformation warfare” where people and organisations are learning how to create “perceptions” and misdirect people, governments, law enforcement and corporations. This is the new asymmetrical communications environment. And it is going to make life a little bit more challenging.

Government & Stakeholder Relations Case Study
A couple of years ago a client’s PR agency contacted us based on some comments in a print news media article. They wanted us to look at social media and online channels to see if anything was being said about their client online. Their client was attempting to get legislation changed in their favour (they are in the extractive resources sector.) Within an hour we discovered that the eco group they’d been working with was creating false content opposing them through online channels. From doctored pictures to falsely edited videos and suspicious seeded news media comments, their supposed ally was working to defeat them. It was quite an eye opener for this client.

This is Not The Domain of Multinationals Either
If you’re reading this thinking that this only happens to multinational corporations (MNC’s) or global affairs, think again. It can be happening in your State or Province, city or town. Often times, individuals or organisations may not even realise they are conducting Disinformation Warfare tactics, but they are. In the marketing world, it might be referred to as online reputation management. But it goes beyond that to government relations, legislative issues, municipal elections or referendums.

The Battle of Perceptions
In political communications there are two key terms; 1) astroturfing and 2) sockpuppeting. Both are designed to alter perceptions to show support or opposition. This is done through manipulation of content whether it be text, audio, images or video. Usually, the manipulation is quite subtle and  untraceable (at least when it comes to sockpuppeting.)

The Trust Mechanism of Reliable Sources
People tend to trust the views and opinions of friends and family first. In marketing terms, research has shown that 76% of people trust a product recommendation from a friend than an advertisement. This translates beyond marketing into every day life. We trust our friends, family and close circles more. This relates directly in social media. If we see content posted by friends and family in our trusted networks, then it is highly likely we will trust that content. This is somewhat anecdotal, but we have enough research case studies to be a strong indicator that this is so.

Playing on Trust Mechanisms
It is these trust mechanisms that clever communicators (political parties, religious groups, activist groups, rogue governments etc.) understand very well. The objective is to manipulate peoples perceptions, in small and large part. Sowing a seed of doubt is the basic objective.

Is It Disinformation Warfare that Prevalent? Do You Really Need to Care?
This kind of activity can be very subtle. For many traditional businesses such as waste disposal, mining, local manufacturing, pulp companies…the results are what speak for themselves. Unfortunately we’ve done the post-mortem analysis for a number of traditional sector businesses and governments that show them after the fact what happened in social media. How perceptions were changed and when. It is an uncomfortable reality. Here is a website that helps organisations learn misinformation tactics as an example.

The Upside of Opportunity
In some cases however, we’re able to show clients what is happening early enough. They can then take actions to turn a negative into an opportunity. But it is a risk to businesses and governments that needs to be not just in the marketing teams realm, but that of stakeholder relations, the C-Suite and policy makers within government.

Coupons and Social Media: A Risk?

Couponing. It’s become rather popular again, although some evidence suggests it’s a waste of marketing dollars. Now with the common use of social media by consumers, there may be an added risk for retailers, especially when a campaign isn’t well thought out. We write this post for CPG companies as we’ve now done a couple of risk analysis projects for consumer product manufacturers in the U.S. that have lost revenues as a result of social media use in coupon promotion.

The Dangerous Viral Effect of Couponing in Social Media
In two cases, the client indicated they didn’t think social media was involved, yet we showed in all cases social media were key. What happens is that most print flyers also get uploaded either to an online flyer site or by the retailer. There are a large number of bloggers who hunt for coupons (we identified over 1,800 in the US and 400 in Canada alone) then assemble the information into a coherent focus on a product or brand. In the US (not in Canada) a consumer can combine coupons on a product so instead of just 20% off they can end up getting 80% or sometimes actually end up getting money back! The manufacturer makes up the difference on the coupons to the retailer. The retailer therefore doesn’t really care what happens; they aren’t taking the hit.

Consumers watch the flyer sites and active couponers are well connected with the various bloggers that bring them together. When a really good deal comes along, especially when they can combine coupon offers, it spreads quite quickly. We found that a combined offer will spread 35% faster than a single over 40% discount coupon when the deal exceeds 45% of the value of the product. The deal is shared across Twitter, Facebook, Blog Rings, Pinterest and a number of other social media services.

The Risks of Couponing Via Social Media
Some, like the Retail Doctor Bob Phipps, show why couponing isn’t a very effective marketing strategy to begin with. When combined with the impact of social media, especially on combination deals, the risks can have a major impact on a retailers bottom line. In addition, no loyalty to the product is built up.

Unintended Retailers & Liability Risks: What we are also starting to see is that people will go heavy on buying products where they get over 60% off. They then “resell” these products on eBay or other auction sites at 40% to 50% off the listed retail, the consumer thinks they’re getting a deal (because they didn’t coupon) and the couponer makes some good margin – and you as the retailer get nothing. Fraud? Could be. A couponer may also sell the products via Craigs List or at local fleamarkets. Yes, you might be reaching new markets, but no loyalty is built and with some products there could be liabilities.

Couponing today presents some serious risks to a business, from hurting brand loyalty to third party liabilities and to reducing the consumer value perception. Social Media usage makes these dangers compounded. Is couponing really worth it?

How A SmartPhone & Social Media Can Kill A Restaurant

We all have our favourite place to eat and it’s about a 80% chance that if you’re reading this blog you have a smartphone (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry etc.) that has a camera. Right? That camera can either propel a restaurants sales or potentially kill sales. Why?

How The SmartPhone & Social Media Can Take Down A Restaurant
It takes about 1.5-2 seconds to snap a photo of the plate that the waiter just set in front of the customer. It takes the same amount of time for that very same photo to be uploaded to Twitter, Facebook, a blog and Google+ or more…no, the customer doesn’t have to send it to each of those channels…they only have to hit “share” once and it’s on it’s merry way to as many social media apps as the customer uses.

It Gets Worse or Better
If you think that the photo they just snapped is only going to their friends…think again. If its a really bad or really good plating, it will spread even further. This is called “amplification” and it can be good and bad…since you might think a person only has a small collection of friends…but who are their friends friends? While taste is certainly key along with quality, all chefs know, presentation sets the stage for the experience. A very cool plate in front of a customer is picture-worthy and a great picture can lead to great sales.

Our Research Backs This Up
In some of our recent research into the sharing of images, out of the 3,500 individuals we sampled (based on tagged photo’s in a tag cloud measurement) we found that roughly 12% of the shared photo’s (via Instagram, Facebook, Flickr etc.) those most shared were from a restaurant experience – good and bad.

Your Biggest Advertisement Expense Is Your Plate
What this would suggest is that a restaurants plate dressing is now a key part of your marketing strategy. What better than when someone shares a picture of an awesome looking plate of delicious grub is served up hot and fresh in front of them…and they send that picture to 200 of their friends and those friends share it forward…that is “word-of-picture” advertising and goes a long way in getting you more and repeat customers.

The Rise of The Image In Online Conversation

You might say we’ve regressed to caveman era communications in some ways. After all, the first social media was the cavewall. That’s where we drew images to share with others where the best grub was and how good we were at hunting and other stories. Then there’s the tried and true saying of “a picture is worth a thousand words”, perhaps even more so today. We also forecast 3 years ago the rise of the image in importance for communications. So we wanted to test our forecast. We were right. Here’s how we did that and what we found. And if you’re going to produce more content for marketing or public communications, images (still and moving) best be on top of the list.

What & How to Measure to Image Value In Social Media Communications?
We a lot of thinking around this; after all, we needed something we could measure. We have very good text analytics software we’ve developed around sentiment and context. We’re also good at measuring the volume of sharing and reach of text and image content. Since much of our work is in public and digital diplomacy on civil society issues with social media we decided to focus on the area of civil activity – activists such as grass roots political groups, uprisings, environmental groups etc. Not from a negative or positive perspective, simply from a content perspective – text vs image. We also settled on civil activity because we did an initial scan of corporations and government and found they tend to be very text heavy.

First Lesson Learned
Corporations and governments are very text heavy in their communications. The larger the more text used. There is nothing at all wrong with this and it’s necessary in many cases (such as public policy materials) but they could use more imagery. Note to marketers and public policy practitioners – get your designer mojo going. non-profit organisations and social groups leverage imagery much more often and much more effectively.

Images Get Shared & Ranked The Most
Using a baseline of 2,500 corporations and governments as a comparative to similar group of activist groups, non-profits and similar organisations we compared over a 3 month period, what was shared the most (text or images) and what received more “likes”, “+1′s” or thumbs up or down across Facebook, Google+, Blogs, Twitter,, Plurk, Pinterest, YouTube, DailyMotion, and several other channels – we ONLY accessed/analysed publicly available data. We found that an image is likely to be shared, ranked, tagged or commented on 52 times more often than text content. Images that are “emotional” in nature (one could argue all images are emotional) are shared 72 times more often. Still photo’s are shared 27 times more than videos or video links.

As you’re planning your communications materials for cyberspace this year, think imagery. Find a good photographer, illustrator, artist and graphic designer and engage them. Imagery is playing an increasingly vital role in social media and cyberspace as a whole. We’ve already seen the average blog post decrease from an average of 800 words in 2008 to 200 words or less in 2012. With the pervasiveness of cameras in mobile devices (phones & tablets) and digital camera prices decreasing constantly, taking and sharing videos and photo’s is only going to increase. Add in services like Yfrog and Instagram and the ability to edit an image or video on the mobile device, well, you see where it is and where it’s going. Sites like Pinterest and GentleMint are very image focused and they’re gaining in popularity, just further evidence of the rise of imagery in modern social communications and SOCMINT.