Fishing for physicians? Consider social media for your healthcare marketing

As the world of healthcare advertising becomes frustrated by the difficulty of reaching audiences via traditional advertising channels, it’s increasingly turning to a (relatively) new frontier: social media marketing.

Research indicates the venue works well for reaching the notoriously hard-to-target physician segment, as well as a general range of patients. Additionally, it comes with a huge bonus: affordability.

As a group, physicians have proven to be fans of social media. Sixty-seven percent use it for professional purposes, says a QuantiaMD study, while another 87 percent use it for personal communication. In another report, 58 percent see social media as effective for accessing current; 64 percent contribute information to it on a weekly basis and 24 percent use it daily for medical information updates. In another survey, 50 percent say they might participate in online promotional programs from medical device companies in lieu of in-person visits from their sales reps.

“Physicians using MedTech products are digitally savvy and seeking ways to interact with device manufacturers online,” confirms Meredith Ressi on the Medical Research Consultants website. “It is any marketer’s dream to have customers seeking messaging and information from his or her brand — one several of our clients are moving fast to deliver on.”

As for patient audiences, one study found 80 percent of web users seek health information online, with 56 percent searching for specific medical procedures or treatments.

Consider the following guidelines when planning for healthcare advertising via social media:

  • Read up on venue rules. Each social media venue enforces its own content rules and reserves the right to remove ads that violate its guidelines.
  • Follow FDA guidelines. In general, the same FDA regulations that apply to TV and print ads also apply to social media advertising. “Benefit claims in product promotions should be balanced with risk information,” explains FDA exec Thomas Abrams. “And companies should provide a way for consumers to gain direct access to a more complete discussion of risks associated with their products.”
  • Understand your audience(s). The more closely you can segment your audiences, the better you can tailor your messages and their ideal frequency. Strive to connect with your intended viewers by gauging their needs and then serving as their advocate and information resource. For example, while patients might immediately review details about your product, time-starved doctors may prefer an immediate summary.
  • Study venue demographics. Each social media service caters to a different demographic that may or may not jibe with your product. In general, Facebook and Google AdWords are most used by people ages 30–50, while Twitter and Instagram skew toward younger users.
  • Develop company policies. Set your own company guidelines related to your social media campaigns, then train and designate staffers you trust to effectively implement them.
  • Plan ahead. Social media engagement requires strategy and constant creation of new content, not mere repetition of what’s already been said. Schedule and create messages and images at least several days in advance to avoid boredom or complacency among viewers.
  • Optimize video. In one survey, 68 percent of physicians say they watch online videos to learn about medical devices. Consider taking advantage of that trend by creating and posting relevant video content.
  • Be vigilant about monitoring. At this point, companies are more commonly using social media for general advertising and an awareness vehicle rather than for two-way communication. Still, you must stay on top of any questions or negative comments posted by others, responding with relevant information, referrals, rebuttals, disclaimers, etc. “If a patient tweets a question about a medical device, reply using noncommittal language and direct the person to the R&D department (or other designated department) at the organization,” advises Medical Research Consultants. “Do not try to explain the product within the 140-character limit set by Twitter.”
  • Observe HIPAA. Avoid soliciting HIPAA-sensitive patient information (or anything involving informed consent) via web form. A safer alternative is employing trained personnel to gather such information by phone.

One final note: Because the use of social media for healthcare marketing remains something of a frontier, you may wish to employ a professional agency to help you navigate all the nuances. Artcraft Health can help you plan a campaign that maximizes all the advantages of each medium.

BlogLindsey Kuhl