The rise of the infographic

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By Claire Leggott

‘Infographic’ – a word few were familiar with a few years ago but one that now rolls of the tongue of many seasoned PR or marketing professionals.  So, what exactly is an infographic?

According to the Oxford Dictionary an infographic is “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.”  I think this simplifies the notion giving the impression that it is merely a bar chart, flow chart or table, when in fact a good infographic is so much more – it is a way of telling a story without words.  Infographics paint a picture to explain complex information via a quick glance.

Infographics have been around for many years  but have recently become mainstream thanks to the ease of sharing them online and via social media platforms.

Are they of use in the world of PR?  We would say a resounding yes.  In a world of information overload and lack of time, the infographic can cut through the crowd to grab people’s attention, be it a journalist or a consumer.  What’s more, their attention doesn’t have to be held for long, within moments an infographic can educate readers about a new topic and inspire them to learn more or take action.

If developing an infographic there are a few top tips to bear in mind:

  • Be clear and concise
  • Don’t cram in too much detail
  • Present ‘nugget’ style information
  • Stick to the facts
  • Limit the number of words used
  • Include interactivity or
    moving images
    to increase impact
  • Ensure it is easy to download, upload and re-post

They aren’t always the ideal tool to use, not every complicated story or set of survey results will translate effectively into an infographic.  However, we would recommend considering presenting a news story or providing background information with an infographic.  They say a picture can be worth a thousand words.  We say a carefully crafted infographic can be worth 10,000 words.

 

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World Public Relations Forum 2012: Day 2

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Off the back of a hugely successful first day at the World PR Forum (WPRF), Day 2 did not disappoint! Not only did the insightful presentations continue, but the morning saw the #WPRF Twitter hashtag hit the number one trending topic in Australia, and the exciting announcement that the 2014 World PR Forum will be held in Madrid, Spain, followed by Kenya in 2015.

First on the agenda after the welcome address was the keynote presentation via Skype by Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman (Richard was to attend the conference but was unable to travel due to personal circumstances). Richard’s presentation was self-branded as ‘provocative’, discussing ideas and notions such as the ‘flip of the influencer pyramid’ i.e. the idea that communication is increasingly horizontal and peer-to-peer as opposed to top down. He also discussed the drastically changing media landscape and the perception / trustworthiness of PR as a profession – discussing the question, is the term PR toxic?

Continuing  the Forum’s theme of ‘Communication Without Borders’, a plenary discussion followed titled ‘The Future of PR in a Borderless World’ involving Paul Druckman, International Integrated Reporting Council, Anne Gregory, Leeds Metropolitan University, Paul Holmes, The Holmes Report and Daniel Tisch, the Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management. Each speaker shed a different perspective on the topic, and interestingly, like Richard Edelman, the speakers also discussed the idea that top down message control is no longer the name of the game, rather influence is now based on dialogue.

After the plenary discussion, Jane Burns, Young and Well Research Cooperative, Allison Lee, IMPACT Communications Australia and Roger Marshall, Bite Communications, took to the stage to discuss ‘Communications and Connecting in Digital and Social Spaces’. Amongst other topics, the ever-evolving landscape of social media was discussed as well as the role and importance of bloggers and best practice for engagement. Allison Lee also raised the question, in the era of the blogger – should all PR practitioners be bloggers also?

After a jam-packed morning, the early afternoon session was one the Cube duo were particularly looking forward to – ‘Social Media for Social Change’ with Paull Young, Charity Water and Michael Sheldrick, Global Poverty Project. Both speakers were truly inspiring (even having a few of us shedding a tear at one point) and emphasised the role social media plays globally in engaging an audience and beginning a two-way dialogue that can provoke action and behavioural change. What’s the key to encouraging audience engagement / participation? According to Paull Young – inspiration and providing a platform where people can create and share their own story and experiences.

A quick 30 minutes was spent attending a ‘Lightening Talk’ session – ‘Content Obesity: an Organisation’s Silent Killer’ was presented by Sally Bagshaw (key message – lose the junk and produce lean, high quality content), while Warren Kirby spoke about the importance of truth and trust in communications.

To bring the day and Forum to a close, there was a final discussion and presentation of the revised Melbourne Mandate where amends to the document were shared based on the feedback received by the Forum attendees. With the incorporated feedback the Mandate received the stamp of approval from attendees and formal endorsement of the Forum. A final ‘Insights and Foresight’ session was then held by Daniel Tisch and Nick Turner, Public Relations Institute of Australia, which summarised what was a successful and informative two-day, international event.

We will be posting a couple more blogs regarding the Forum in the coming weeks – looking at key topics in more depth, so keep an eye out and be sure to follow us at @CubeBytes for all the Cube news!

 

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World Public Relations Forum 2012: Day 1

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Melbourne is currently playing host to the biggest contingent of PR professionals ever to descend on Australian soil at the World PR Forum, and a couple of ‘Cubans’ – Niki Hennessy and Jade McCudden – have joined the more than 800 delegates from 21 countries to talk about all things PR and communication! Here’s the duo’s overview of the highlights from Day 1.

The Forum is being facilitated by the ABC’s Virginia Trioli – who is doing a great job of keeping enthusiastic communicators in-line and on schedule, and apparently enjoying getting a look behind the scenes of ‘the dark side’!

After the welcome address from Nick Turner, PRIA, Robina Xavier, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Dan Tisch, Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management, we were treated to a keynote presentation from Wadah Khanfer, who is described as one of the world’s few gentlemen in broadcast TV. Khanfer is President of the Sharq Forum and former Director General of Al-Jazeera.

The presentation was a huge highlight, providing insight into the changing face of broadcast journalism, the emergence of the ‘two speed newsroom’ and the impact of social media in empowering the populace as agents of social change.

Khanfer’s presentation then moved onto a panel discussion that further explored communication without borders (or communication across borders) with Wadah Khanfer, Andrew Beswick from Amnesty International, Jehan Bseiso from Medecins Sans Frontieres and Archie Law from Action Aid Australia.

After morning tea the Cube team attended the Marketing and Brand session with Marne Fechner, Netball Australia, Brian Finn, Ideas Shop and Peter Young, Cricket Australia. The session focused on transforming and revitalising your brand by re-engaging with traditional fans/brand advocates and reaching new ones. According to Brian Finn, for Rugby New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup bid, this meant strong themes, taking an inclusive approach, engaging its stakeholders, demonstrating ways for people to get involved and actively managing risk. Moving forward it apparently involves Taylor Swift.


As part of the 2012 Forum the Global Alliance is producing the Melbourne mandate, a ‘dialogue on how communication is changing our world, our organisations and our profession – and how communication must change as a consequence’. During the first afternoon session we participated in a working session to discuss and critique the draft mandate. We’ll share more about the mandate at a later date, so stay tuned!

The afternoon also saw Professor Mark Pearson from Bond University and Claire O’Rourke from Essential Media discuss some of the legal and ethical issues presented by social media. As Prof. Pearson summed it up, ‘this is the new media literacy’, and something every communications professional should be aware of, so we’ll have more on this later as well.

After a day of inspiring and informative sessions it was time to glam it up as we headed to the MCG for the 2012 PRIA Golden Target Awards and the World PR Forum Gala Dinner.

Highlights of the night included Prof. Jim MacNamara from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) – where quit a few Cubans graduated from – being awarded the Educator of the Year Award, and the retro photo booth at the gala dinner.

Niki and Jade having fun playing dress-ups at the World PR Forum Gala dinner.

Congratulations to all of last night’s winners at the Golden Target Awards! Stay tuned for more on Day 2 of the Forum. You can also stay up-to-date on all the action as it happens by following us on @CubeBytes.

 

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To engage in social media or not to engage, that is the question! But what’s the answer?

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By Claire Leggott

question mark

In part two of Cube’s update from the Inaugural Social Media in Healthcare Conference we explore the hot topic of how and when to enter the world of healthcare social media. 

From Facebook, Twitter and blogs, to the new kids on the block – Google+ and Pinterest – the social media sphere is ever expanding and brands/companies seem to be embracing new communication channels with increasing vigour.

However, hesitancy to engage with digital remains in many industries, including the pharmaceutical industry.  Employing a level of caution is prudent as navigating social media within the confines of the Medicines Australia Code of Conduct can be a daunting and somewhat tricky business.

It need not be scary though, as Andrew Moore, from Sanofi, pointed out .He believes a fear of the unknown or seemingly uncontrollable should not hold pharmaceutical companies back, and spoke about a listening campaign – social media monitoring – which formed part of Sanofi’s first foray into social media.  Getting the campaign up and running involved overcoming challenges regarding the potential for mass adverse event reporting, but in reality adverse event reports occurred with just 0.3% of product mentions.  Andrew advocates a listening campaign as an ideal way for companies to dip their toe into the social media water and as a platform from which an effective social media communications strategy can be developed.

Further voices of experience were heard at the conference, with both Simon Lillis from PwC in Sydney, and Kerrie Noonan from The Groundswell Project, highlighting the vital components to ensuring a successful strategy.  Put simply:

  • Identify a very clear and simple goal/objective
  • Interact with the audience (although beware of going too strong and over-facing the audience)

Elisabeth Tuckey, from Headspace, also emphasised the importance of understanding your audience.  For example, males don’t often ‘like’ pages on Facebook but are drawn by visuals so YouTube is an impactful communication channel for men.

It is clear just how much communication is now taking place online, be it on a computer/laptop or mobile device.  Discussion about a brand will be taking place somewhere within the digital ether regardless of whether said brand is actively targeting audiences in this sphere.

Cultivating a social media presence does come with some risks but ignoring this communication channel could be the biggest risk of all.

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Pinterest: how digital pictures can tell a thousand words, and then drive traffic to your website

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By Johanna Waide

Pinterest – the latest digital media application everyone seems to be using in their personal lives as well as in the business world. It’s hard to believe that the humble pin board that adorns the kitchen walls has morphed into a virtual visual feast that allows us to reach beyond the written word to tell a story.

Put simply, Pinterest is a fast and cheap way to share content including photographs, videos and links to other websites. It’s also a great way to categorise images and content, by moving ‘Pins’ into separate pin boards like advertising, fitness and kids or pregnancy.

Signing up to Pinterest is currently by invitation only. Once the request to join is approved (which may take up to a week), users can then begin to follow, re-pin and comment on the pin boards of others that they find interesting or inspiring.

invitepin

signup

Since launching in March 2010 Pinterest has made waves because of its ability to draw big numbers in terms of online traffic.

Web information company Alexa.com reported that the site is currently ranked the 42nd most popular website in the world, coming in at number 26 in Australia. Additionally, according to Australian social media statistics, the number of Pinterest users grew from around 190,000 in February 2012 to 350,000 in March – an increase of 160,000 in just one month.

Industry experts say that this popularity will continue to climb as millions of new pins are added everyday from all over the globe. The site also has impressive ‘length of stay’ engagement numbers, third only to time spent on Facebook and Tumblr.

Because of this hype, Pinterest is already being used by businesses to further their online presence.

However, just as with any communication tool, it’s important to consider whether this new social medium aligns with your organisation’s core purpose and values, as well as how it can best be used in ways that benefit all stakeholders.

Here are our top five picks of the ways businesses might use Pinterest:

1. Promote products and services

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, making Pinterest’s visual focus a powerful opportunity for businesses to engage and educate audiences about its products and services. Ways this can be achieved include adding pins of new product images, ‘how-to’ video demonstrations featuring a brand’s products or user-generated photographs showcasing a products’ unique or special features.

2. Showcase core values – all of them

At present the site hasn’t created a distinction between personal and brand profiles. While the temptation may be to post pins related only to your products, user etiquette is very important within the Pinterest community, so boards that are too self-promoting won’t be well received.

US grocery chain Whole Foods Market have set a benchmark in achieving an optimal balance between product-endorsement, enticing user interest and showcasing the different facets of an organisation.

Quoted on Mashable, Whole Foods Market’s Global Online Community Manager, Michael Bepko, explains how they have leveraged the platform as a marketing tool: “It allows us to curate images from across the web that really speak to who we are as a company, images that reflect our core values and essentially communicate the essence of who we are.”

Whole Foods Market’s Pinterest profile currently consists of 40 pin boards. Pin board topics range from recipes using the store’s produce (which have quirky titles such as Cheese is the Bee’s Knees and Eat your Veggies) to boards that promote external causes including Earth Day. Although global in its outreach now, the organisation also pays homage to its humble establishment in Texas in 1980 and has a board that encourages people to pin useful, interesting & influential Texan things & Texans to follow on Pinterest.

To check out why Whole Foods Market has almost 30,000 Pinterest followers, visit their profile by clicking here.

3. Engage in conversation

For businesses Pinterest provides a channel to access and respond to user comments regarding their products or brand/s in general.

Additionally, like Twitter, Pinterest uses hashtags (keywords) to enable its search functionality and generate trending topics. By adding one or multiple hashtags to your pin descriptions (up to 500 characters), you can increase the likelihood users will come across your pins.

4. Add a “Pint It” and/or Pinterest “Follow” button to your website or blog

Adding a Pinterest button to your online platforms not only lets your audience know that you’re present on the site, it allows users to re-pin your posts to their own Pinterest profiles.

Follow this link to learn how to add Pinterest buttons: https://pinterest.com/about/goodies/

5. Drive website traffic

Last but certainly not least, Pintrest may help drive website traffic and boost search engine optimisation (SEO).

When users add a pin, they can include a URL in the description, thus creating links between posts and specific websites or blogs. Additionally, as PR and communications blog Bianchi Biz Blog aptly explain, when a user adds an image to a pin board from an online source, the original link is automatically stored within the image, allowing visitors to click back to the original source.

***

While these tips highlight just some of Pinterest’s exciting and innovative features, before deciding to use the social media platform, the golden rule of communication still stands: ensure it is (or has the potential to be) relevant and meaningful to your target community.

What primarily separates Pinterest from other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is its adherence to a single media form, the picture. In other words, what you need to consider is whether pictures can tell your audience what you want them to hear. Can Pinterest tell your story?

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You are what you eat? Online and offline consumption

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The internet is increasingly influencing our diet and attitudes towards food – from online advertising about the latest diet plan, to accessing nutritional information about what you’re eating, ordering take-away via a smartphone and mobile applications able to assist with developing a grocery list.

The recent media discussions regarding traffic light food labelling have made nutrition a hot national topic – even more so now information about any kind of food is available at the press of a button. We’ve also seen an explosion of apps designed to help us make considered decisions about food and avoid the danger of eating hidden fats and sugars.  One that was launched this week is ‘food switch’- positioned as a tool to empower Australian shoppers to make healthier food choices. The app allows users to scan the barcode of packaged foods using their iPhone camera and receive easy to understand nutritional advice.

New Year resolutions

January is typically the month to kick-start our healthy eating resolutions and the nation’s dietitians are encouraging Australians to take part in a healthy ‘pledge’ campaign in tangent with Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (22-29 January). This social-media based campaign encourages users to publish their pledges via a Facebook page and Twitter profile. Ten years ago, such a supportive and motivating digital platform would not have existed, but in today’s social media environment, we are able to benefit from immediate, interactive digital programs.

Facebook

Online support

Weight management is also big business online, with the availability of personalised online tools for those who want to access support and information in the comfort of their homes. This is particularly helpful to those situated in remote areas of Australia and who don’t feel comfortable attending a face-to-face meeting. Weight Watchers Online enables people to remotely track what they are eating, monitor their weight and develop an interactive shopping list.

The Government has also launched a number of digital initiatives providing nutritional support. There is the Healthy kids: Eat well, get active website, positioned as a ‘one stop shop’ of information about healthy eating and physical activity for parents and carers, teachers and childcare workers, health and other professionals and kids and teens . There is also the Government’s digital Swap It, Don’t Stop It campaign encompassing a mobile app and website, helping users to make healthier choices.

Accredited practicing dietitian and infant nutritionist Kate di Prima says, “More often than not, patients I see are educated about food and what they’re feeding their families. A contributing factor is the plethora of information accessible via the internet. It’s important to use reputable sources – there is a lot of dialogue happening, which can sometimes seem overwhelming. The flip side is we’re inspired to cook more adventurously and use ingredients that we may not have previously considered.”

Fashionable nutrition

Indeed, examples such as the Create Nutrition blog and journalist/media commentator Sarah Wilson’s blog define modern, fashionable nutrition.

In this day and age, smartphones mean that every one of us is a potential food critic, having the ability to write immediate, online reviews, while seated in the restaurant. This in turn means that food standards need to be high.

Fruit

It will be interesting to see what the future holds and if the shelf life of online nutrition tools expires before the groceries go off!

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What does the Twitter explosion mean for journalists?

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Back in 2009 when the US Airways flight crashed in New York’s Hudson river, it took a mere four minutes before a member of the public broke the story to the world via Twitter. Jim Hanrahan, wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive [sic] in manhattan”.

Twitter

It wasn’t long before the story was spreading like wildfire in Twitterverse. Interestingly, it took news outlets longer and it was approximately 15 minutes later that they began reporting the incident.

Love it, or hate it, with the rise of social media channels like Twitter and Flickr, news stories can reach all corners of the world with an immediacy we’ve never seen before. We only need to look at more recent examples of the microblogging’s speedy ability to spread the word, including the death of Steve Jobs and Muammar Gaddafi. So what does this mean for qualified, modern-day journalists and how are they embracing Twitter?

We’re constantly reminded that we’re in the midst of a social media revolution. Twitter is a social networking phenomenon and Australians aren’t holding back! In fact, Australia accounts for 1.8% of Twitter’s traffic and the social networking site attracts 1.1 million unique Australian visitors per month.

So, what is Twitter? Twitter, in essence is a very simple tool. ‘Tweeters’ are limited to posting short, 140 character messages (the same length as a traditional SMS message) to their followers. So a Tweet can’t provide a lot of detailed information, but it can make a concise point, link to an image or webpage and most importantly publish content immediately.

Since it’s creation in 2006 however, Twitter has evolved. ‘Tweeters’ are now able to search the entire network in real-time for specific topics or breaking news, organise their streams with ‘hash tags’ – the # symbol, used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet, and even add photos or videos to their posts.

These developments of the social media channel have translated to journalist engagement. Twitter has become a way for the media to keep up to date and engage with their audiences, locate sources and to report on news in real-time. The sheer speed of Twitter’s ability to spread breaking news has completely changed the way that journalists report and audiences receive news.

Many key Australian health journalists are opting to not only ‘follow’ the news on Twitter but also publish and promote their own stories. Take ABC medical health reporter Sophie Scott. Sophie’s an active Tweeter and uses the channel to broadcast her stories to the world.

Sophie Scott

Twitter itself, is also catching on to the growing trend of journalists engaging the networking site. This is reinforced by Twitter publishing a set of guidelines called Twitter for Newsrooms, which is designed to help journalists use the platform effectively. A Twitter spokesperson explains:

“We want to make our tools easier to use so you can focus on your job: finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, promoting your work and yourself and doing all of it faster and faster all the time.”

Twitter for Newsrooms was launched earlier this year and demonstrates to journalists how to “report”, “engage” and “publish” to their followers.

There are a plethora of other helpful tools that are assisting journalists with their mission to conquer the news digitally – be it, Tweetgrid, Twitscoop.com, Twhirl, Tweetdeck or Twellow, and the list goes on.

During a talk in Melbourne on the ‘Twitterisation of Journalism,’ University of Canberra Journalism lecturer and social media researcher/consultant Julie Posetti stated, “It’s fascinating as a citizen, as an academic and as a journalist to watch Twitter progress. Despite all the risks and pitfalls that have well and truly been identified along the way, I think Twitter is an important breakthrough in terms of making journalism more social and accessible to a broader public.”

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Integrating digital into your marketing strategy

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Consumer interaction hasn’t changed. The consumer journey is the same as it always has been; people browse, buy and use. What is different in today’s digital environment is people start their research online and to influence this, offline and online marketing needs to work together.

Through blogs and social media channels your marketing content needs to facilitate two way dialogue. Previously, customer relationships worked via a one-way conversation – the company speaking to the consumer. Now discussions are collaborative and work both ways via channels such as Facebook, blogs and forums. To work with this, there has been a shift to ‘inbound’ marketing – marketing that focuses on getting found by customers.

Inbound marketing uses digital channels including:

Content: Blogs, videos, white papers, e-books

SEO: Search engine optimisation and keyword analysis

Social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr

The more materials and content you post online, the more chance people have of finding your content.

Here are some key components to consider when thinking about your digital marketing strategy if you haven’t already:

1)      Create a keyword strategy using Google AdWords

2)      Search engine optimise your website

3)      Develop a business blog

4)      Promote content and participate in social media

5)      Nurture engagement with email marketing, e.g. eDMs

6)      Consider online advertising

7)      Be mobile friendly

8)      Analyse and refine strategies

marketing strategy

You may have heard it before, but the power of digital is growing rapidly and it is important you capitalise on the opportunity as part of your marketing strategy. Now the average time spent online (13.7 hours/week) tips television viewing time (13.3 hours/week). In just 20 minutes on Facebook over one million links are shared, two million friend requests are accepted and almost three million messages are sent. Every day 300,000 new users sign up to Twitter and 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute! It is therefore necessary to promote content and participate in social media to open up the discussion and to encourage engagement for your business.

Ultimately when integrating digital into your marketing plans, you need to define your strategy and vision and understand how digital media interrelates with traditional media. With the evolving nature of digital, you also need to be flexible and engage your audience, which may mean reinventing your content to accommodate varying trends and discussions.

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Developing an engaging Facebook page for your business

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With more than 10 million users in Australia alone and 500 million global users, Facebook is one of the most influential websites in the world. Increasingly, patients are researching their condition and treatment approach online and Facebook is a very useful resource to share experiences with others and to gain further insights. Here are some simple ways that you can maximise engagement on your Facebook business page.

Focus on your audience and their needs

As with any marketing and communications messaging, it’s important to focus on the outcomes and your audience. Who are you talking to and engaging with on your Facebook page, and what would they value from you? If you have a range of insights that you deliver to clients as part of your services, consider seeding some of these into your Facebook page. Be clear about who you are talking to and be sure to offer them something of ‘value’ – whether that be expert advice, topical news or an offer.

Plan your posts

Publishing valuable content on your business Facebook page is crucial to maximise the audience’s engagement. Scheduling what you want to say and when you want to say it avoids repetition and ensures you integrate different aspects of your communications plan on the Facebook page. Planning content avoids any last minute panics and translates to higher quality posts and enables consistent messaging. The most effective way to do this is to create a content calendar and set aside time each week/month to plan what you are going to say.

Good content is crucial

It seems obvious, but if you publish good quality content, people will return to your Facebook page and will share links with their friends. Here are some top tips to encourage engagement:

1)      Include links to support your message

2)      Be personal – your page is the face of your organisation or your brand

3)      Be active and update your page frequently

4)      Engage with your audience. If someone asks a question ensure you answer it

5)      Have a social media framework in place in case anyone posts defamatory content

6)      When publishing health specific content, remember it must comply must with the ASMI, MA, TGA codes and other relevant industry regulations

7)      Monitor your page – if someone publishes spam, immediately delete it

8)      Think about what would add value to the audience, e.g. a tip of the day may demonstrate your expertise as well as be of use to the audience

9)      Upload varied content, this could include videos and podcasts

Frequency of posting

It is the quality of content, not the quantity that matters. Research shows that businesses who post weekly on their Facebook page get the same result as those who post daily. Always think about the time of day you post content and when your key audience is available.

So what does this mean for the pharma industry?

Pharmaceutical companies face the challenge to host a branded Facebook page which complies with industry regulations and also acts as a forum where patients can have a two way dialogue. The FDA, ASMI, TGA and MA is yet to determine official guidelines for pharmaceutical  brands operating in digital media, so understandably, pharmaceutical companies are cautious in their decision making about how to use Facebook pages as part of their marketing strategy.

 women's confidential

Women’s Confidential Australian Facebook page

As a business, it is important to be within the digital space that your key audience is using. Many organisations are hosting successful unbranded Facebook pages – take a look at the Australian Women’s confidential page from makers of Canesten®. This site is positioned as the “modern girls survival guide offering advice fashion, beauty and health tips.”

The Can you feel my pain? page developed by Pfizer is an exemplary unbranded Facebook page raising awareness about chronic pain and working in collaboration with leading patient and citizen organisations across Europe.

 Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Can you feel my pain? Facebook page

Evidently, there are strategies to host engaging Facebook pages that educate patients and do not contravene regulatory guidelines.

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How can we help consumers of online health information discern truth from twaddle?

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Our complex e-health infrastructure is revolutionising healthcare across the globe. Bupa Health Pulse conducted a survey in 2010 that comprised of over 12,000 people from 12 countries including the UK, Australia and Germany. The internet is increasingly being used as a tool for health-related purposes with people drawn in by highly sophisticated audio and visual content now offered through computers, mobile phones and tablets, as well as opportunities for interaction via social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

In Australia, 4 in 5 people have access to the internet and nearly 45% use Facebook – the largest social networking site in the world. Australians spend more time than any other country using Facebook, averaging at 7.5 hours per month. At least 4 in 5 Australian respondents in the Bupa survey were making some use of the internet to search for advice on health, medicines or medical conditions, including searching for information to make a self-diagnosis and seeking other patients’ experiences.

BLOG PIC

The internet has the potential to empower Australians to make better, more informed choices about their health and healthcare. It may facilitate economic efficiency for our healthcare system by reducing inappropriate consultations and decreasing the costs of communication between the patient and their healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, there are a huge number of websites that provide bogus information, lacking in evidence-base. This can have serious consequences, leading to needless worry, unnecessary consultations, delay in appropriate diagnosis and use of unproven, ineffective tests and treatments. How can we expect people to decipher through the thousands of results that come up within their Google or Yahoo searches? Also, most of the top 20 healthcare websites are geared towards scientific and academic communities in the US – certainly not the average Aussie.

Of the Bupa Health Pulse survey respondents, 18% are using social networking sites to find out about healthcare issues. Twitter is used by 5% for this purpose. The extent to which individuals who post comments or write blogs are representative of the broader health population is questionable, but of course this may not always be borne in mind by the individuals who take their advice.

The full potential of the internet will only be realised if there is sufficient investment in providing the tools and skills to help people discern high quality, credible content that is jargon-free and tailored to their current knowledge and skills level. Accreditation procedures might be used to ‘badge’ trustworthy websites, but support and advice on how to search for information in the first place is also a must.

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