The next great red herring after social media

The many self-professing ‘Social Media Gurus’ remind me of the heady days when I first began teaching students how to be a ‘WebMaster’ in the mid to late nineties. Back then, a salary of $150,000 for a WebMaster was a good possibility, even for a novice who could ‘talk the talk’.Of course in our modern times an elementary-level school child can design and build a website – for nothing! Companies and individuals that simply build websites are very much in a commodity-based industry now. Then there was the ‘Y2K expert’…

My point is that the proliferation of ‘social media gurus’ are surely also destined to become a commodity, if they haven’t already. As with any channel, it is so important to understand that social media simply plays a role within the complete integrated communication channel mix.

During 2009 it was clear that social media was the ‘shiny new toy’ for late-adopting sectors such as government and healthcare – yet this concept of gathering around and gawking at the latest technology is surely detrimental to long-term engagement.

Imagine if I recommended that we define an “iPad Strategy” – you may think I was a little over-zealous.

Healthcare organisations and pharmaceutical companies are looking to us as engagement strategists, to think about how we can help them connect the right people, information and ideas in a meaningful way, for the long-term, via whichever emerging channels people choose to use in the coming years.

‘eHealth’ is not the same thing as ‘eMail’

I suppose we are only human, therefore we cannot help trying to label and compartmentalize every new technology for communication. Whenever a new technology is introduced, we seem to put an “e-” on the front of it. To be fair, this does makes sense in some cases. Take e-mail as an example. Most certainly we are talking about an electronic version of mail. Perfectly acceptable.

But what about ‘eHealth’? Are we really talking about “Electronic Health”? In my opinion it seems a little strange to talk about an entire industry sector which is fundamentally about life, cells, pharmacology, breath, and so much more as being electronic.

Indeed a speaker at the recent ePharma Summit was bold enough to suggest from the podium that all people with an ‘e-’ in their job title should resign before their position is absorbed back into ordinary business operation.

“After all, e-business is really just business”, they argued.

I’ll admit I smirked from the dark recesses of the room. So now I would like to discuss the latest “mHealth” fad in earnest.

mHealth is not the ‘next big thing’

During, and subsequent to, the ePharma Summit there have been a lot of people speaking and writing about ‘mobile’ as being the next big thing. Let me explain why I think it would be a mistake to put all your eggs in the mobile basket.

Firstly, I do not deny that mobile and portable devices are permeating society and that applications for these devices are creating a whole new level of engagement with brands and services. It is a fact that both the power and reach of these devices is growing exponentially. It is also true that these channels create exciting new possibilities for healthcare as an industry.

My problem is with the mindset that focuses on a device or a platform.

Focusing on content, not channel

As long as we continue to focus on technologies or channels, we miss the potential of the Internet – to make lives better through real-time communication and right-time, right-place information.

We have decades of experience incorporating and adapting to new channels. Yet there are simply not very many campaigns that truly focus on full integration and continuity of the customer journey regardless of the entry or exit point, or whether online or offline.

The still elusive ‘Holy Grail’ for commercial enterprise is to better integrate CRM and the Internet – to learn from the customer journey. It requires a lot of planning and organisation, a luxury which is rarely freely available, therefore demanding a conscious decision to make time for an overall cultural change.

Here are some practical concepts to focus on instead of ‘mHealth’ or ‘Social Media’.

  • Anywhere
  • Anytime
  • Any device

Thinking this way brings the core of the initiative in line with the needs of the people who will engage with your campaign or message.

The real world and the vision of the future

I personally do not believe it will be too much longer before technology itself is transparent. This means that we will not think about whether we are connecting to the Internet, we will simply be connected. We are living in an age where 92% of all scientists ever born in the history of the world are alive right now. Likewise, 82% of all engineers.

A lot is happening behind the scenes, such that a technology avalanche is around the corner. It is exciting, but fickle. You only have to pause and think about how many mobile phone models you have had in your life so far – and that the pace of change is speeding up.

We may not even think about our ‘mobile phone’ or our ‘computer’ or our ‘television’ in the next few years, but these devices will simply be part of our life. Perhaps so-called “wearable computing” is just around the corner (i.e. clothes which are connected to your communications network). I hope that doesn’t mean we are going to see a new breed of ‘Wearable Computing Strategy Gurus’.

In any case, I have a metaphor which I use to illustrate the emphasis which is important in engagement strategy:

It is not the pipe itself that needs an engagement strategy, it is the plan for the people at either end of the pipe and what goes through the pipe that needs consideration.

So to all healthcare organisations, pharmaceutical companies, marketing professionals and communications teams planning an upcoming campaign, I encourage you not to be distracted by the shiny ‘Social Media’ piece, or the apparently even shinier ‘mHeath’ piece.

Spend some time talking with [intlink id=”contact” type=”page”]your Strategy Team[/intlink] about information needs, knowledge management, creating semantic information, bridging verticals, aligning channels with customers, and ensuring that return can be measured tangibly though all touch-points.

Paul Grant

Paul Grant is Healthcare Engagement Strategist with global consultancy Creation Healthcare, where he leads digital behaviour research studies and advises healthcare clients on engagement strategies. He has been providing strategic insight solutions and professional services to the world's leading biopharmaceutical and healthcare organizations, helping them to find appropriate pathways to engagement within regulatory frameworks.