Can Europe Lead the Way With Social Media in Healthcare?

Europe learns from US digital pioneers

Since the rise of the Internet as a commercial tool in the 1990s, the United States has often been recognised as leading the way in the successful use of the Internet by business. This has placed innovative UK and European businesses in an exciting position where they could learn from the successes (and mistakes) of their US counterparts, and reap the benefits in their own strategies.

In the pharmaceutical industry, this has also been the case for a long time. Back in 2002, Creation Interactive worked with Pfizer to launch its first ever UK content-managed corporate website at www.pfizer.co.uk. Within days, the pharmaceutical company’s UK website was a living, breathing, regularly-updated corporate communications platform. This website was also the first UK website to accurately reflect Pfizer’s brand position in the UK, finally catching up with Pfizer’s the US-based corporate website at www.pfizer.com.

At the time, this pattern was typical across most of the pharmaceutical world: US pharma led the way in succeeding through technical and digital innovation; European pharma cautiously followed. This pattern was not always the choice of European pharma – in some cases it has simply been that international pharmaceutical companies have chosen to lead digital innovation from the US.

Europe takes the initiative

Things are changing, and this year has seen digital initiatives in European healthcare that are groundbreaking at an international level.

Earlier this year, we reported that a pilot Internet-based system to aid the management of diabetes in the UK had identified the unique strength of social media for patients.

Then we reported on powerful stakeholder digital engagement demonstrated in French pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis.tv.

Earlier in the year, Pfizer UK launched a patient safety campaign aimed at UK consumers, that shocked CNBC in the US although 67% of cnbc.com users polled say they think the campaign is effective.

What is ‘Leading the Way’?

Of course in the real world of healthcare – whether in pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers and professionals, or patient groups – being first with an idea is not what really counts; leading the way means achieving results.

With so much already written elsewhere about measures like followers and friend counts, without considering meaningful engagement measures, it would be easy for healthcare communicators to fall into the trap of thinking that the objective of social media is simply to connect.

True leadership in social media, however, will be achieved through meaningful engagement that achieves measurable results. If you are planning or implementing a social media healthcare campaign, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Who do I want to engage? (e.g. patient groups, patients, carers, healthcare professionals, legislators, payers)
  • What are the results I really want to achieve?
  • How will I measure those results?

Answering these questions will take you a step closer to accurately measuring the effectiveness, and ultimately return on investment, of your campaign.

Identifying and engaging stakeholders online

Any channel, including digital, can only be effective if those you want to engage – such as patient groups, healthcare professionals, payers – are with you in that channel. You must be where they are. That’s why social media strategies that embrace existing networks on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter can be effective, if you connect with the right people there.

Now, how do you know where the groups and individuals you want to engage are? You have to start by listening. This is where the team at Creation Interactive can help you to discover who the key influencers are in your therapeutic areas and to learn what they are saying, to whom, where they say it, and how you can join in their conversations. Do email me if you would like to learn more about how Creation Interactive could help.

Daniel Ghinn

Daniel Ghinn is Editor of Healthcare Engagement Strategy and CEO of Creation Healthcare, the online market research consultancy for healthcare. He is a prolific writer and speaker on emerging trends healthcare engagement in the digital age.