I decided to come back to this subject after seeing a number of articles John Wagner posted on his blog, On Message, asking marketers to consider the impact of audience fragmentation on communications campaigns. He says:
“There is no doubt that consumer generated media is important, and its influence will grow. But it’s critical to keep in mind that the interest in ‘creating’ will always be limited to a segment of the population. That’s easy to forget when your whole world revolves around blogging.”
In another post Wagner comes back to this theme, saying:
“Many people I know use their computers for e-mail (or IM'ing if they are young) and not much else. They don't read blogs, don't care about YouTube, don't spend time creating commercials for their favorite brands. They live in the real world, not the online one, as I'm fond of saying.”
Wagner makes a lot of good points, but I disagree with him. There is at least one important exception to his assertions about social media: healthcare.
Audience Fragmentation Isn’t A Big Issue In Healthcare
Audience fragmentation does not matter much in healthcare because people are turning to the Web in overwhelming numbers to learn about drugs, conditions and medical news. According to a July 2005 Harris Interactive poll, nearly 117 million American “cyberchondriacs” use the Internet on a regular basis.
In addition, people believe the information they find is “at least somewhat reliable.” Why do they trust online healthcare content? I suggest it is because their peers have developed much of what they find. As the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates, people tend to place high trust in information developed by their fellows.
Blog and Bulletin Board Healthcare Content: Easily Located Or Buried?
If people are going online for healthcare information are they easily finding consumer-generated content on blogs and bulletin boards or is it buried? To find out I conducted an experiment in Web information gathering. I looked for online content about a popular ADHD medication manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company called Strattera.
I put myself in the shoes of someone looking for information about people’s experiences with the medication. To find out, I conducted a search using the words “Strattera” and “experience” on two popular search engines: Google and Yahoo!.
What I found was very interesting. First, blog and bulletin board-generated content about people’s experiences with Strattera was featured very prominently on both search engines. In each case, I found consumer-generated content on the first page of each search.
As the graphic to the right illustrates, I found four examples (see the yellow checkmarks) of consumer-generated content via Yahoo!. (I excluded content developed by advocacy organizations in this search.)
On Google, I found three examples. Surprisingly, content featured on CrazyMeds.org, a popular blog that highlights patient experiences with psychiatric medications, had a higher page ranking than Eli Lilly’s Strattera Web site.
What Are People Finding On Bulletin Boards and Blogs?
I was then curious about what people were learning about Strattera by reading on-line bulletin boards and blogs. Overall, the patient verdict on Strattera is decidedly mixed. I conducted a search on a new Web site, Board Tracker, which tracks commentary on bulletin boards for information about Strattera. (Thanks to Steve Rubel for this tip.) As you can see in the graphic to the right, there were three prominent and widely-read negative mentions about Strattera posted on several popular bulletin boards.
CrazyMeds.org features more balanced commentary. Readers learn about the pros and cons of taking Strattera – and about some “freaky” side effects. (See the screen shot to the right.)
Closing Remarks: Blogs Are Becoming Increasingly Important
My experiment indicates that consumer-generated content is pervasive and may be significantly affecting people’s perceptions of healthcare products and services. It is clear that bulletin boards continue to have a significant impact on consumer perceptions and behaviors.
However, I also feel that as the healthcare blogosphere expands, blogs will play an increasingly important role. Although they don’t do as good a job of providing people with customized answers to their healthcare questions, they are becoming sources of trusted, valuable and easily accessible information.
To learn more about what I think about blogs and healthcare, please see this post.