Category Archives: Ideas and ideologies

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.)


Digital mediums and digital marketing – influence on healthcare industry

Before I start, you may read about “7 Predictions For How Health-care And Our World Will Evolve by 2020” from Rohit Bhargava’s Influential Marketing Blog.

In my following post, I will focus on the role digital medium in general and digital marketing in particular, will play in influencing the healthcare industry. Please note that the following are my views and not a commentary on the above mentioned post.

Digital medium will strongly influence various aspects of the healthcare sector, not just in India but globally. Although US / Europe uses the digital world for creating, consuming, sharing and enhancing health care related content extensively and this phenomenon is being increasingly adopted in India as well. More and more healthcare professionals including doctors, general physicians, healthcare service providers, surgeons, pharmaceutical distributors etc. are spending time online and with smart devices. So are patients and that is a good news for digital marketers. This holds a special significance for the healthcare industry.

Let’s take a look at why and how digital activities around medicine and healthcare will growth and shape the healthcare industry in a significant way in future.

Trust and social media – A big part of consumer behavior revolves around the “recommendation” game in social media. As much as social media is considered powerful by modern marketers, it’s been a difficult challenge for marketers to generate authentic referrals in social media. And it is not a function of amount of money spent on social media promotions, but far more dependent on how good the product is. Good products will get good recommendations. If one’s health is concerned, trust is single most important factor. A strong recommendation from a close friend about a certain treatment or medicine will surely push it in the consideration set of the customer, if not drive its adoption. Social media makes it quick and easy.  People are more likely to trust recommendations from their close friends on a social network, more so when it comes to healthcare.

Behavioral targeting – The nature of the health care industry is such that behaviorism targeting is difficult to achieve using mass media marketing. Every person has a different problem, a different medical condition, a different patient history and a different requirement. Almost all treatments start with a personal consultation and a customized plan. The beauty of the digital medium is that it allows total personalization. Sending relevant messaging to an individual based on his medical problem and healthcare needs is easier through the digital medium than traditional medium.

Data based decision making – We have come a long way from the times of printed heath records, transcription records and patient history reports. Modern software, such as Amalga and HealthVault by Microsoft, allow for online data storage of medical records and health care information, not only at an enterprise level but also at an individual level. Imagine a team of doctors, getting access to a patient’s medical history before he is admitted or arrives for consultation. Decisions based on digital data of medical records, patient history, previous prescription details will make the process far more quick, accurate and efficient. That will make everyone’s life easy.

Smart devices, integration and sharing – The instruments such as Heart Rate Monitors, Blood Pressure Monitors, are becoming more and more nimble and compatible with other devices. These can be plugged into computers and their data can be captured and stored into online accounts. Smartphones are becoming compatible with such devices. In future, a wide range of healthcare devices will be smarter and will have inbuilt digital sharing capabilities, and they will also be able to integrate with mobile computing devices such as tablets, netbooks, notebooks, and smart phones. This will makes access to critical data fast and convenient. Doctors can surely make use of these data sharing capabilities during critical situations in ICU and emergency rooms and literally save lives.

Marketing and promotions – The digital medium has proven very effective in generation buzz and running promotions. By promotions, I mean sales, discount schemes, seasonal promotions, online offers, e-commerce deals etc. The beauty of the digital medium is that it gives marketers an opportunity measure what they have spent on and optimize campaigns. Healthcare providers and related businesses such as diagnostic centers will have to make efforts to get attention of online consumers. The opportunity is large and so are challenges. Social commerce websites such as Groupon, SnapDeals, will prove to be useful in generating bulk business for healthcare service providers. Pharmaceuticals companies, hospital chains, diagnostic center will implement digital engagement programs and these will consume significant marketing dollars.

Widget and applications – Here comes the fun and exciting part. Technology companies can design and develop diverse range of applications and widgets for diagnosis and knowledge sharing. The capabilities of these widgets will extend well beyond the simple BMI calculators available today. These apps will be designed around symptoms and treatments, disease classification and diagnosis, drugs and remedies, alternative and therapeutic healthcare remedies etc. Although the widgets will not be replacement for personal physician consultation, they will surely help in deciding the direction of the treatment. These will be hosted on the web, on smart phones, on smart medical devices, and will be sharable on blogs and social networks.

Online presence of related industry – There are various industries associated with the healthcare industry which increasingly rely on the online medium for growth and survival at times. For instance, life and health insurance companies spend large chunks of marketing budgets on display advertising, online lead generation and online customer engagement. Life and health insurance industry, closely related to the health care industry, present ample opportunities for online collaboration for active customer acquisition and engagement. Another such industry is medical tourism. In future, health tourism packages will be sold online and travel industry will also have a share of it. In future, western hospitals will tie up with their eastern counterparts, work with a certain insurance provider and healthcare services providers to sell medical tourism packages and a ton of these will be researched and sold online.

Clinical research and development – Needless to say, the digital world provides ample opportunities for breakthrough innovations in developing cures for hitherto unconquered diseases. The Human Genome Project, is a live example of how people around the globe made use of the digital medium for mapping the genome. A single platform used by experts around the globe to share, analysis and interpret clinical data, design and test solutions to healthcare problems and invent new theories for complex disease is only possible through the online medium.

All the above points make a strong case for the healthcare industry to think of new ways to leverage the internet and other smart platforms, for reaching customer with solutions that they need. Digital marketing is a simple, effective, cheap and measurable way to reach healthcare customers. Once this catches momentum, the health care delivery process will change forever.

Please share your views on the above.

What things mean and what they don’t

In my 8 years “short” career, I have had the good fortune to work under different circumstances. I have worked in various countries from Germany to USA to India to Japan to Switzerland. I have interacted personally and professionally with diverse set of people ranging from c-level executives of global retail chains to stitching factory workers in remote parts of the developing world. I was employed at companies ranging from small tech-start up to multi-billion dollar companies in silicon-valley to old-economy Indian manufacturing companies, almost on the death bed. I thank my “evolutionary plan” to have given me this good fortune. In my experience, I have found the following things to be largely true. Tell me, if you don’t agree with any of them.

Seven things money just can’t buy: class, respect, wisdom, good will, good health, smile and love.

Seven more things money can’t buy: Leadership, influence, peace of mind, appreciation, audience, popularity and elegance.

Lack of experience doesn’t mean lack of capability. Past experience in one thing also doesn’t mean natural qualification for future tasks. One part of experience is also “baggage”. If experience was the only required qualification (A ton of companies in India have this recruitment mindset! No wonder then, that majority of them fall under the “also ran” category.), technically, people wouldn’t be able to change their careers at all and we surely know that’s not true.

Lack of education doesn’t mean lack of intelligence, but lack of education means that minimum effort required to get into a good graduate or post graduate school wasn’t put in for whatever reason and chance to organize thinking, being informed, reading books and exposing oneself to diverse ideas and people, was lost.

Marketing doesn’t mean advertising and advertising doesn’t mean spamming. There is a fine line between meaningful content dispersion and random spamming. The former builds a brand, the later destroys it.

Loyalty doesn’t mean talent. Rewarding an employee for his loyalty is not the same as rewarding him for brilliant ideas.

Good leaders shouldn’t wait to reward talented newcomers for them to become loyal. Reward indeed may prove to be a step towards making that talented newcomer loyal.

Sticking to one company for too long a time also means missing all those spectacular opportunities that existed outside the company.

Data doesn’t mean information. Information doesn’t mean intelligence. Intelligence doesn’t mean wisdom. Real test is in converting data into information, information into intelligence, intelligence into wisdom and wisdom into success.

The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more you appreciate that knowledge is vast and you know very less.

Body, physical appearance, strength etc, these will fade with time, but knowledge won’t fade, it will grow by sharing and using your brain more and more. Reading is one way to grow knowledge. So keep reading.

Implementing an expensive software system is not the same as using it efficiently.

Expensive doesn’t mean premium or of a higher quality. Cheap doesn’t mean unnecessary. Salt is cheap.

Louder doesn’t mean more meaningful or more convincing. It surly means more annoying.

Being at the workplace for longer hours is not the same as working more or getting more work done. It’s rather an indicator of the fact that someone somewhere is inefficient.

Similarly, asking people to do  more is not the same as asking them to do better. More is not always better. A true leader should encourage people to do better.

I have to reiterate Seth Godin here – Better is trickier than more because people have trouble visualizing themselves doing better.  It requires education, coaching and patience to create a team of people who are better.

Good and popular are not the same. Good may be popular, but popular need not always be good.

Managers have employees; leaders have followers (Seth Godin). And bosses have subordinates, but an entrepreneur has friends.

Not having time to read, is like not having time to eat. Your survival depends on it.

Not having time for family is not having time to bathe. Your well being depends on it.

Having to do exactly the same task at the workplace without any variation is like being in prison, going through the same routine every single day. It will make you want to get out. Change is the salt of life.

Having to do new things everyday is like eating a new cuisine every day. That’s not staple diet. It will take a toll on your stomach.

Everyone needs a fine balance between the above two.

Do you have any more? Please feel free to contribute.