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

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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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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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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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2 health social media campaigns worth a look

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Whilst on the topic of the health impact of the ‘digital age’, it is worthwhile exploring the power its most current and relevant offspring, social media, has in disseminating health messages and empowering the public.

While it is impossible to talk about all successful campaigns at once (and this is something Cube will be keeping an eye out for), below are two campaigns which have caught our attention:

1. Twitter Autism Day

In this simple and effective example, Twitter was used to create a channel for sufferers of autism and their careAutism Awarenessrs to share their knowledge and experiences of life with autism. Communication and misunderstanding are some of the obstacles faced by people with autism. Twitter was an appropriate medium for this particular disease area, helping sufferers address these obstacles. It also allowed the community an opportunity to show their support by following and re-tweeting. A hashtag was created to help. Twitter Autism Day became a trending topic and this speaks volumes for the success of the campaign in raising awareness and public understanding of the condition (via Engaging Social Media).    

2. Digital Men’s Health Campaign

With last week marking YouTube’s 5th birthday – it is impossible not to give the popular video sharing site a hat-tip. Particularly, as sharing video content online is becoming increasingly important (41% of Australians streamline or download videos).

Click here to view is a reel which encapsulates an interesting digital campaign, developed internationally by the industry, in the area of men’s health (via http://pharmadigital.wordpress.com/). Below is a snapshot of some of the digital content generated.

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Health literacy in Australia… as easy as ABC?

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Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

Health literacy in Australia... as easy as ABC? Cube PR blog

For all of us working in the healthcare industry, it is easy to focus all our attention on the development and delivery of information to patients and the general public at large. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must also pay attention to how that information will be received and understood – a process referred to as ‘health literacy’. At last week’s FROCOMM Health Communications, Marketing & Media Conference, the topic took centre stage – what it is, how Australia is fairing and ways to improve it.

Search the internet and you will find a plethora of information on health literacy, ranging from official Government-funded reports to blogs which ask why Australia, a nation obsessed with health, lags behind, albeit slightly, other first-world countries such as Canada.

Health literacy is described as a person’s ability to use health information effectively. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provides a more detailed definition - “the knowledge and skills required to understand and use information relating to health issues such as drugs and alcohol, disease prevention and treatment, safety and accident prevention, first aid, emergencies and staying healthy”.

Health literacy has become an increasing focus in recent years amongst Government and academics. The latest version of the ABS ‘Health Literacy, Australia’ report delves deep into demographic distinctions and, whilst it’s not hugely surprising that people with higher formal education attainment achieve higher levels of health literacy, age does have a significant impact. Health literacy it increases from 15 to 39 years, then decreases for those ages 40 and over. The ABS report surmises this is because aging causes physical, psychological and social change.

Just last year, two reports into health literacy were released, both unveiling worrying findings. The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) report found six out of every 10 Australians would experience difficulty in understanding or making the choices necessary to stay healthy, or to find their way round the health system. Similarly, a study by Australian doctors at the University of Adelaide stated many people do not understand basic health information.

That is enough of the problem – what are the potential solutions? At the FROCOMM conference a number of people representing universities and industry associations offered their views. Peter Waterman from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia encourages people to search through the society’s Pharmacy Self Care program online, which has over 80 separate factsheets on topics as diverse as Alzheimer’s, antibiotics and alcohol. The Society also recently set up a Facebook page in an attempt to have as more direct dialogue with consumers.

Deon Schoombie from the Australian Self-Medication Industry (ASMI) agrees consumers should seek to have a direct dialogue with their healthcare professional. He also highlighted social media as the ideal way to engage publicly and directly with people as it is about them and allows the health system to offer a tailored message, bringing the system closer to a real conversation/interaction. ASMI recently launched a Facebook page, Twitter profile and regular blog, demonstrating their tangible belief in this viewpoint.

All FROCOMM panellists agreed that better education in schools is critical as is making the health system more accessible. (Backing up this viewpoint, the NHHRC report also recommends health literacy be included as a core element in the curriculum for both primary and secondary schools).

The provision of information in a consumer-friendly and engaging manner and connecting consumers with HCPs quickly was also discussed. Professor Clare Collins from the Dietitians Association of Australia believes flexibility of information delivery will help ensure it captures the attention of the target population – for example, SMS texting for younger populations.

Is getting Australia’s health literacy levels to the standard they should be as easy as ABC? Not quite, but addressing the issue must remain a priority to ensure Australia remains a truly healthy nation. As part of Australia’s healthcare industry, we have a unique opportunity to help in a tangible way  by ensuring we focus on the 3 d’s with all communications materials – developing, delivering and perhaps most importantly, deciphering.

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The rise of the responsible blogger

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It’s hard to believe blogging began just over ten years ago, primarily as online diaries for a handful of people. In its purest form the blog is a relatively easy way for you and I (the ‘citizen journalist’) to communicate to interested people about any topic we like in a format where having an opinion matters more than being objective. 

Recently, the blog format has migrated into the mass media space, with the format increasingly utilised by traditional media outlets to present news and current affairs online. The first known use of a blog on a news site was in August 1998, when Jonathan Dube of The Charlotte Observer in the United States published one chronicling Hurricane Bonnie. But it was the Iraq war that saw blogging rise in popularity amongst journalists, with many providing a ‘real life, real time’ image of the conflict via their online diaries.

The divide between traditional journalism and blogging is often seen as a chasm rather than a crack, particularly in terms of accuracy and quality. But discussions at last week’s Frocomm Digital Conference challenged the view that all blogs are created equal. 

While bloggers themselves were once seen as ‘media mavericks’, one of Australia’s key bloggers discussed the fact that many bloggers choose to adhere to the commandments of their journalistic counterparts. Duncan Riley, respected blogger and editor of The Inquisitr reiterated the ‘content is king’ mantra, stressing the importance of accuracy and objectiveness. Mr Riley claims his blog jumps through more ‘editorial hoops’ than some of the stories found on sites like news.com.au, which he argues could be seen as content filters rather than content creators.

Rise of the responsible blogger

However, he also admits that “quality blogs don’t get the traction, influential stuff does.” Monty Hamilton, Head of Online at Ubank agreed, labelling the merging of quality and influence “engagement value – what can we offer the blogger that will engage their audience and ultimately attract new followers?”

We are undoubtedly witnessing a closing of the great divide between the blog and traditional media coverage. In the United States alone, an overwhelming 89% of journalists admit to researching and/or sourcing a story from a blog. (Conversely, Duncan Riley would rather his blog was “picked up on Twitter than by the mainstream media” as the power of attracting more followers is greater).

Whatever your personal view, blogs will continue to grow in number and influence, offering healthcare communicators a unique avenue to reach a specific target audience who are interested and highly motivated by what they read – providing that ‘engagement value’ in a way no traditional mass media outlet can.

In the age of the ‘healthsumer’ and at a time when the traditional flow of information has been turned on its head, the question will not be whether to engage with the blogosphere or not, but rather who to appropriately interact with and how to do it.

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Cracking the Code: A communications insight into Edition 16

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2010 marks 50 years since Medicines Australia first introduced the Code of Conduct. In five decades the Code has evolved dramatically. From a small booklet in the 1960s that could practically fit in a back pocket and scrutinised use of telegrams as a communications channel – to Edition 16 now two A4 manuscripts holding almost 300 pages with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube under the microscope!

Edition 16 now provides the pharmaceutical industry with even tighter and more specific standards for the marketing and promotion of prescription products and engagement with healthcare professionals, patients and the general public.

When it comes to communicating with the general public what was once quite ‘grey’ and open to interpretation, has become far more lucid.

New Code now in play

New Code now in play

For the first time there is clarity on previously debated areas. When a company can issue a product-specific media release and what can and can’t be included is now qualified. How a company can respond to journalists requesting internationally released data on unregistered or ‘off-label’ products is also specified.

Edition 16 also features a sub-section on social media, recognising that while industry is still a little cautious with this new sphere of communication, it cannot be ignored.

At first glance Edition 16 may come across as more restrictive when it comes to industry’s relationship with the general public and media. And no doubt, it has prompted many a communications professional to consider how to convey a balanced, Code-compliant message that also piques the interest of one of its primary conduits of communication – the media.

However, on closer assessment, clarification of ‘grey’ areas and the setting of very clear parameters to work within can only be seen as a positive step. Greater alignment and consistency among each company’s approach to marketing and communications is important – and may assist in minimising the public scrutiny the industry has been forced to face in recent years.

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Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

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Hands up who’s been on Twitter for more than 12 months? Be honest!

If, like most people, you can’t put up your hand then don’t worry, because it was only in 2009 that Twitter really hit the mainstream. Created back in 2006, the site provided a unique microblogging service that enabled users to send messages (tweets) of up to 140 characters to their network of followers across the globe. However, by 2008 there were still only a few hundred thousand users.

It wasn’t until the beginning of last year when big-name celebrities began using the service to connect with their fan base, and Governments and big corporations used the site to extend the reach of their campaigns, that Twitter hit the headlines and experienced serious exponential growth.

The exact number of users is hard to quantify, but by September last year the number of live Twitter accounts is said to have passed an incredible 50 million. One in five internet users employ Twitter or another service to send updates about themselves or to see other people’s updates.

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

Twitter and healthcare – could 2010 be the year they come together?

The early adopters of Twitter in the healthcare arena have been clinical groups, hospitals and healthcare organisations who are beginning to use Twitter to communicate timely information within the medical community, to patients and the public. Real-time tweets provide a fast and easy way to reach multiple people in a short space of time. This has advantages for sharing time-critical information such as drug safety warnings, tracking disease outbreaks and disseminating healthcare information.

Twitter applications are now available to help patients find out about clinical trials or to link brief news alerts from organisations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reliable websites that provide more detailed information. International congresses are now using tweet streams to update followers on the latest news and data announcements.

Twitter has become an integral part of communication in today’s society. In fact, for the first time, the updated Medicines Australia Code of Conduct includes reference to social media (section 12.9 for consumers, 2.4.2 for healthcare professionals) – removing the current ambiguity and providing definitive acceptance of this medium as a valid communication channel within the healthcare arena.

With major health issues like swine flu topping the charts as the second most tweeted about topic in 2009, it’s clear that health will continue to be discussed via social media. It’s time the Pharma industry began dipping its toe into the water and using this channel to openly interact with its target audiences.

If Pharma is not part of the conversation to begin with, how can we expect our voice to be heard?

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The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

The rise and rise of swine flu

Despite continued Global media coverage, swine flu seems to be in decline within Australia, or at least within manageable limits.

The media first coined the phrase ‘swine flu’ back in April this year after a new strain of influenza containing genetic fragments of swine, bird and human viruses was detected. The WHO declared a Global pandemic in June after the number of infections reached 28,774 in 74 countries, including 144 deaths.

Whilst the potential impact of new, fast moving viral strains can rarely be quantified, it has to be said that everyone likes a good health ‘scare’. A random Google search for ‘swine flu’ today came up with over 34 million hits, the vast majority being media coverage. Yet much of the online buzz was propelled by social networking sites with swine flu rating as a trending topic on Twitter for several weeks.

At the time of this blog post, the death toll in Australia is said to have reached 128, with 460 in hospital and 94 of them in intensive care. However within Australia at least, the virus is now perceived to be manageable. Health officials announced last week that vaccinations may start within the month, making Australia the first country to begin mass vaccination against the H1N1 virus.

The swine flu ‘buzz’ continues due to the ongoing impact overseas. Just today, in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, the mayor of a small French town banned spitting and wrote to football chiefs to demand that footballers who spit be sent off, putting the issue back on the front page.

As the northern hemisphere goes into the winter flu season the swine flu ‘noise’ is set to continue, circulating via the global media. Potential new strains, mass vaccination and a resurgence of other influenza viruses like bird flu may add further fuel to the fire.

One thing is for sure – this health story is not going away anytime soon.

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