Social Media Analytics for healthcare – Human involvement in the 4-I continuum

Analytics, as known in the digital data parlance, is perceived to be associated with or rather dependent on tools and technologies. Undoubtedly, various software tools and technologies have significant roles to play in analytics but their contribution is limited to data extraction, organization, colleting, counting and to a limited extent, recognizing textual patterns.

Current technologies cannot replace humans in executing critical aspects of analytics; when it comes to managing ambiguity and complexity, human intelligence is indispensible. For instance, it is difficult for any software to define the problem, interpret results in the context of the problem, filter the relevant information from large chunks of data and derive actionable insights to mitigate business risks or take corrective action.

As compared to consumer goods, monitoring and analyzing social media information in healthcare and pharmaceutical industry is far more complex due to various reasons such as regulatory constraints, privacy and confidentiality issues, non-standard patient experiences, complexity in understanding symptoms, side effects, reaction to drugs, reasons for patients switching brands etc.

Broadly, social media analytics process involves converting information into intelligence, intelligence into insights and identifying initiatives based on these insights. As we traverse through the 4-I continuum of information-intelligence-insights-initiatives, it is critically important to understand the roles of human analysis.

The art lies in understanding what can be achieved using software and what should be done by humans. Here’s my take on that.

4-I Continuum of Social Media Analytics

4-I Continuum of Social Media Analytics

Before we start, I would like to mention that it is critically important to define the business problem and set the direction of research; needless to say, both have to be done by humans.

Information stage: Although low as compared to the advanced stages, the human involvement is needed in defining the objectives of the research, creating keyword taxonomy and feeding it correctly in the system using Boolean search logic. Several listening-software products such as Radian6 claim to provide real time social media data analytics, automatically and conveniently. In my experience, automated listening software do a fair job at discovering data, are good at extracting data but not so good at giving out meaningful analytics. They certainly do the counting part well. What the software gives you depends on what you ask. It is important that the right instructions are received by the software. Importance of defining the taxonomy that covers all aspects of the problem cannot be overemphasized.

Intelligence stage: Use of the term “intelligence” should be sufficiently indicative of the strong human involvement is required at this stage. The extracted data includes important information, some irrelevant data and some junk. Various methods are used to filter out the junk as well as separate the irrelevant material. Let me elaborate on “relevance” here; information may be relevant to the keywords, but not necessarily relevant to the objectives. For instance, if “skin cancer” is a keyword, then information around skin disorders (not necessarily cancer), is relevant to the keyword “skin” but not relevant to skin-cancer. Further, data around skin care products or animal-skin products would qualify as junk. Such distinctions can only be humanly made. Boolean search will allow data filtering based on such criteria, but high accuracy is rare.

Insights stage: Insight generation is interpreting the information in the context of the defined problem. At this advanced stage of analytics, human involvement becomes even stronger. At this stage, the relevant information is categorized, tagged, analyzed and consolidated. Combining insights helps solve the problem. At this stage, technology can play a diminished but nevertheless significant role by offering insights at one place. For example, a consolidated mash-up of charts in a dashboard can show sales trends in one chart, social media sentiment trend in another, a tag-cloud of side effects in a third and switch-over patterns in a fourth. All these put together may help in understanding the cause of the problem.

Initiative stage: This is a purely human activity since it involves taking decisions around the “now what” part i.e. action. The information has been extracted, intelligence gathered, insights derived, problems identified and now it is time for initiatives i.e. finding and implementing a solution to the problem.

For instance, if there is substantial noise by a social advocate around side effects of a particular drug on Twitter, the brand team can implement digital initiatives and engage the advocate for spreading information around managing side effects using (hypothetical example) a vegan diet.

In summary, for efficiently implementing social media analytics programs to solve business problems, managers have to optimize the use of technological and human resources in the process, as they traverse the continuum of information-intelligence-insights-initiatives.

Best practices in inbound marketing

Over the past 7-8 years, the marketing game has changed from outbound  marketing to inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is an optimal configuration of a set of online/digital activities aimed at  helping companies/websites attract relevant  and interested customers or tribes using a variety of techniques, engaging them, capturing and managing leads, converting them into revenue  and in the process, measuring everything. Inbound marketing involves following activities:

  1. Using a range of (head, long tail) keywords in organic SEO and paid search marketing and online campaigns
  2. Engaging the audience with remarkable content (blog posts, social media content, videos, eBooks  white papers, case studies, info-graphics etc.)
  3. Frequently bringing the audience back to the digital hub (often a website) with  content-targeted email marketing campaigns
  4. Capturing lead information using optimized landing pages
  5. Qualifying and managing the leads by the sales force; establishing strong relationships with the customers
  6. Measuring all of the above activities using marketing analytics systems and improving the effort on an ongoing basis

To achieve the competitive advantage, the sales and marketing teams have to work in tandem and amplify each others’ efforts to create value for the customers.
The big question is – How to get it right? In that context, I would like to share 10 best practices in inbound marketing from my experience.

  1. Profiling ideal customers may work better than segmentation and targeting: Most marketers tend to identify customers based on demographics, profession, industry, etc. Such segmentation leads to one segment being targeted with marketing messaging. The issue here is that digital revolution has made it more difficult to put a large chunk of people into one category. A better way may be to profile the ideal customer and think from his/her perspective. Creative behavior maps, customer journeys, scenarios, etc., help in identifying touch points where the customer will be more responsive.
  2. Content is king; so serve the king well: When it comes to content, there is no getting away with “standard” stuff. In short, without remarkable content, it would be difficult to engage customers. Marketing campaigns and catchy taglines will surely get customers on your website and landing page and may even generate a lead. But to make them come back and keep them engaged in the long run, creative content is the only way. Use as much creativity as you can in generating white papers, case studies, videos, blogs, tweets, ebooks, infographics, marketing charts, idea snippets etc.
  3. Consistency in using keywords is indispensable: In fact, it is as important as consistency in messaging. Be consistent with the keywords that are used in the page titles, meta-tags, headings, web-page content and blogs, white papers, video content, tweets, social media content etc. This has everything to do with how human beings learn i.e. through repetition. Once people start associating your products with certain keywords, they form a mental image and more often than not, that becomes your brand.
  4. Spend some money on advertising, it will help in understanding whether it helps: Yes, go ahead and spend some money on Google AdWords, Microsoft AdCenter, Facebook Advertising and other advertising tools. Being short on budget is a good argument against spending money but a stronger argument is  – it doesn’t work. You wouldn’t know whether it works or not, unless you try. Tell your boss that you have data that shows if paid advertising works for your product or not. He will be impressed.
  5. Measure not only what’s easy to measure, but also what’s relevant: Measure everything. Measure page views, clicks, click-through rates, most read blogs, most commented blogs, case study or white paper downloads etc. Also, measure the number of times your content is shared on social networks. Measure how leads convert into orders and how orders convert into long term projects and revenue streams. Besides the standard stuff, also measure costs; cost to generate 100 leads Vs. cost to convert one order, cost to produce a case study  Vs. cost to produce a video, cost to acquire a customer Vs. cost to maintain a customer, etc. This will help you do better, if not more.
  6. Avoid the trap of “what gets measured gets done”: Sure, measure everything so that you can optimize the effort and the spend. But don’t get stuck in measuring what can be measured and habitually getting that done. This relates to how people are incentivized. In the incentive scheme, also include qualitative stuff such as “customer happiness quotient” and “first impression impact”. Don’t lose the sight of the ultimate objective, which is to create value for customers.
  7. Numbers don’t paint the complete picture: Don’t just measure whatever I have mentioned above; also read through what your clients or customers are saying about you. That is, we need to put some resources in qualitative analysis. These analysis will reveal what the problems are, how big they are, what’s the tradeoff between urgency and impact etc.
  8. Avoid the weak link effect: Do you want to achieve great success in inbound marketing? Hire some smart people. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. It is important to get rid of the rotten apples from the team. Your next level of growth will come from people who are hungry for that growth. Having “also ran’s” in the team is not an option. Forces multiply when A players work together; avoid mixing the As and the Cs. C players will consume a lot of energy from the A player and adversely impact their productivity and performance.
  9. Clients want to pay you because you solve their problems: There is no standard B2B sale. Most clients are looking for a solution to their problem. If you are using content for attracting clients, the content has to address how you will solve their problem, which means that you have to understand what their problem is. Understanding client’s problem is a consultative process; it needs you to spend time with the clients. Don’t just focus on selling your product but spend more energy on understanding client’s problem and then figuring out, if and how, your product solves the problem.
  10. Authenticity of content comes from research: If you are writing a white paper targeting a particular industry, the white paper should demonstrate your understanding of that industry. This means that white papers are different for different industries. This also means that you need to do a lot of research to make the content meaningful. Else, you may have a risk of diluting the credibility of your brand. Read more and think more. That will help.

Would you agree? I would like to get your views on this.

10 lessons I learned in healthcare social media analytics

It is said that experience is the best teacher. Here, I want to share the 10 best lessons I learned in the past 1.5 years, while establishing Social Media Monitoring and Analysis practice serving the global pharmaceutial and healthcare industry.

  1. Machines rarely deal well with human emotions. Natural  language processing  software or textual analysis software may be good at recognizing  patterns of how certain keywords appear in certain sequence and how that can be interpreted, but when it comes to understanding opinions of patients or reasons for switching drugs or therapies, they rarely do a good job. That is why you need human analysts or medical experts  in the team who exactly understand the content and tell the truth.
  2. The problem isn’t always “big data”. Most approaches to social media analytics start with the assumption that data volume is very high and users are increasingly conversing, thus compounding the problem. This may be true of certain consumer goods, but when it comes to healthcare and prescription drugs, big data is not always the issue. In fact, for prescription drugs, data volume doesn’t become “big data” during pre-launch, launch and post launch phases; it takes years before the drug is adopted by a mass of people and data becomes big. By then, there is not much left to change.
  3. Statistical sampling doesn’t work in qualitative analytics. It is always safer to look at the entire quantum of data for drawing conclusions; a sample section of the data rarely gives an accurate big picture. This is possible to be done during the decision making phase, since the data is not yet big. If you want to be confident about the accuracy and quality of analysis, there is substitute to manual analysis of large part of the data. Afterall, we are talking healthcare here; the analysis may have serious consequences.
  4. Standard syndicated reports are limited in their value. Syndicated brand reputation report covering entire competitive landscape are good to have, but they rarely offer insights. They don’t solve problems or provide competitive advantage. Deeper dives are needed to reveal brand specific insights and most clients are often willing to pay for custom investigations.
  5. Influence of patient generated content extend beyond geographic limits. Clients seem to believe that social influence is local. So most affiliate (country level) offices aren’t interested in what is being said internationally, although the brand is global. The reality is, patients read everything that appears in searches and don’t necessarily spend time in selecting comments only from their geography. In order to understand what influences patients in a certain geography or country, it is better to focus on the content being consumed there, instead of focusing on the content being produced there.
  6. Social media analytics is not an event; it is a process. Short term analysis of patient comments done within a time window, may reveal insights. But that may be only a section of truth. In order to understand long term trends, changing opinions, shifts in brand perception and conversation triggers that caused them, continuous monitoring is needed.
  7. Adverse events reporting using social media is rare. Patients rarely use social media for actively reporting adverse events. Even if we assume that they inadvertently do so, most of the times, social media content doesn’t qualify as reportable adverse event.
  8. Even if there are some AEs, reporting can be easily managed. Some may not buy point 5 and may believe that there may be some patients who report AEs using social media. There is so much to be gained from listening to consumers that there’s no point in sacrificing it all for concerns around AE reporting. Social media AEs are easy to manage. Define a process. Create protocols. Delegate responsibilities and put a team together. Treat social media as another channel for reporting AEs, just like other channels such as a reporting form on the website, or a call center number or through physicians.
  9. It is critical to think from the consumer’s perspective. Social media is not about large corporations and drug manufacturers; it is about people and their lives. Patients talk more about their own condition and their experience with your brand. Social media is deeply integrated into the patient’s treatment journey. Patients use social media as soon as symptoms start appearing and continue right through, until they are cured or come to manage a lifelong condition . This way of thinking should lead to social media initiatives targeted at patients at each stage of the treatment journey.
  10. Integrated marketing is the right approach. To build a sustainable competitive advantage using social media, we have to think holistically. Social media is a part of the digital marketing strategy, which in turn is a part of the larger brand marketing strategy. You don’t have to do all the marketing in-house. Partner with an agency which can work with you across the digital/social media marketing continuum i.e. social media monitoring and analysis, integrating insights into the marketing mix, social media marketing and engagement and dollar impact measurement.

(Views are personal.)

Why should clients come to you every time?

Eight reasons really.

  1. Because you are strongly interested in and deeply care about solving clients’ problem, and not interested merely in selling your product or service and making the quarterly targets
  2. Because you put real expert people in front of the clients and not a call center number, which if the client calls, often generates a mediocre experience
  3. Because you have the expertise, you have the experience, you hire smart people and you have long term commitment to the business you are in
  4. Because you are eager to share your expertise and expertise with the client proactively; one of the ways to do this can be publishing a lot of online content such as blogs, videos, frameworks, methodologies, case studies of past success, white papers for future ideas, etc. and make all this content available on social media channels
  5. Because your pricing is realistic and you are willing to sample some stuff initially, so that the clients know that you seriously want their business
  6. Because your solutions and recommendations are realistic, based on insights from data analytics, actionable, and innovative and most importantly, help clients in gaining a competitive edge
  7. Because you want to develop long term sustainable relationship with the clients and co-create value in the long run, thus leading to creation of wealth
  8. Last but not the least, because you keep your promises and only make those which you can keep