I didn't want to write this post, but too many people have now asked, "where can I read your take on the swine flu?" Just to be different, I've refused to write anything, but now I've got to.
I didn't want to write this post, but too many people have now asked, "where can I read your take on the swine flu?" Just to be different, I've refused to write anything, but now I've got to. Two things that won't surprise you: I'm a big advocate of Twitter and I'm always looking for ways for healthcare marketers to improve what they do. Today the two met up in a big way.
I read a great NPR article today about how Twitter is really causing more harm than good when it comes to swine flu. Unlike many other real-time issues where Twitter's been helpful (like when terrorists attacked Mumbai), it's causing more hysteria than real facts. In the case of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the information found on Twitter was more up to date and accurate than the traditional news outlets. The feedback was immediate, like having thousands of reporters on top of the story. Misinformation was minimal. This information probably saved some lives. When it comes to swine flu, it's a whole different story.
The NPR article pulled a few tweets related to the swine flu. These are a good representation of what's happening on Twitter:
Quite a bit less valuable than the information coming real-time during the Mumbai attacks. The above tweets instead represent general hysteria. That's always going to happen, right?
So, what's different about this hysteria? Pharma is taking a drubbing because of the swine flu. Why? Well, here are a few select tweets that give a pretty good picture:
My favorite is the last one. Basically is says, "I know nothing about this swine flu, but I'll take this moment to hammer the industry." Nice. Pharma's PR problems get worse every day.
So, what's a healthcare company to do? Why did I title this post, "Why Healthcare Marketers Should Own Swine Flu"? I don't mean what a lot of the above tweets implied, that pharma should take credit for the swine flu. I'll leave that to those "tweeps." Instead, I mean that healthcare should own and help control the conversation. If they can do it right, they'll immediately improve their standing in the community.
In times of uncertainty, as we have with this swine flu, people want definitive answers. They want answers from authorities they trust. I admit that many people don't trust healthcare (particularly pharma) companies, but that's all right. Keep in mind that millions of people visit pharma websites every year. They do turn to them for information.
Let me remind you of a previous post on email marketing where I talked about a recent study by Epsilon that showed that people are open to hearing from pharma companies. Click here to see the relevant chart for this discussion.
Here's what I said in my post about this chart:
"What?!? One of pharma's biggest issues is an overall negative perception of the industry, right? Turns out you can improve this with email marketing. Read the question again: "I have a more favorable opinion of the pharmaceutical companies that send me email because of the communications I receive." Looking for a simple way to improve your company's public perception? Here's a place to start. One caveat, the "because of the communications I receive" is an important part of this, so make sure you're sending quality content that's meaningful to patients."
What would be more meaningful than real-time information about the swine flu right now? What about sending it directly to your consumers' email addresses? I would certainly say that this would be classified as "quality content that's meaningful to patients."
If you're worried about people not trusting the information from you, here are some facts: the "extremists" that I highlighted in this post will never, ever listen to you no matter what your source or what you say. So, forget about them. Your appealing to your average person who already has a good opinion of you. I'm talking about the people you already communicate with. Those in your CRM programs and those visiting your sites. They do trust you. If they didn't they would have never given you their email address and they would have never visited your site. You're talking to them. Forget about everyone else for now.
You don't have to create the content. In fact, it might be better if you don't. Get information ultra-credible sources, like the CDC, and aggregate it. Use their information to create a "truth and myth" section with citations from authorities. You can add a small call out on every site you have and send the information in an email to everyone. Your message is simple:
You look to us for valuable, accurate, and timely information about various healthcare conditions. As we looked at the news available for the recent swine flu outbreak, we found that much of the information is the opposite of what you expect. We see it as our obligation to help supply you with accurate information not just about our products, but about your health in general.
Using the latest information from the CDC and other sources, we've compiled a up-to-the-second website (<insert your new URL>) that tracks the latest news regarding the outbreak, dispels rumors, and supplies you with all the background information you'll need. We see this as an important service that our resources allow us to bring you and we hope that it helps you stay on top of the latest developments.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Healthcare Company
Who doesn't benefit from that? It would require minimal effort and could be launched in hours (I'll do it for you). It would also do wonders for any healthcare company's standing in the community and could be a wonderful PR effort if done right. Done right means that it isn't promotional. It's just providing what consumers need. They'll pay you back later with their loyalty if you do it right. This is Marketing with Meaning in action.
Why are you still sitting there?
Jonathan is Director of Business Development for Bridge Worldwide, a leading digital and relationship marketing agency, and regularly writes about pharma marketing on his blog Dose of Digital. Feel free to send him a tweet to @jonmrich.
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