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Social Media: Changing the Game for Healthcare Relationship Marketing

Published January 28, 2013 11:13 AM by Adrianne OBrien

Editor's note: This blog was written by Daniella Koren, president, DKI.

For the past 12 years, my focus and interest has been relationship marketing (RM), specifically patient relationship marketing. It has been the allure around building, segmenting and leveraging a database of qualified patients, usually suffering from disease states where they could benefit from high quality information. Direct-to-patient (DTP) and healthcare RM has been an interesting integration of disciplines, converging to create measurable marketing initiatives that demonstrate ROI for brands and businesses.

Today, the game has changed. And much of the table-turning dynamic can be attributed to technology and social media. Companies and brands are beginning to realize that they cannot control the relationship or message flow. Using social media as a channel for engagement raises interesting challenges for traditional RM marketers. As IBM explains in a recent white paper, "by definition, RM strategy is architected to manage relationships as a means for extracting the greatest value from customers over the lifetime of the relationship. These strategies typically concentrate on the operational responses required to manage the customer. With social media, though, customers (and their highly influential virtual networks) are now driving the conversation, which can trump a company's marketing, sales and service efforts with unprecedented immediacy and reach."

Healthcare needs to embrace this shift with a new strategy - social CRM, which recognizes that instead of managing customers, the role of the business is to facilitate collaborative experiences and dialogue that customers value.

The healthcare marketing industry is waking up to the idea that healthcare, hospital and pharmaceutical brands are not going to be the center of a patients' universe, especially when it comes to disease state information. Reports I've read recently proclaim that people use up to 10 sites/resources to gather information and self-educate.

Therefore it's time to strengthen relationships with key thought-leaders and educate them. Except now, it's not only about providing healthcare professionals with the latest and greatest clinical data. It's about providing them with quality information so that they in turn spread the word virtually and create collaboration and value.

Social CRM is all about the use of a medium. The medium might be a committed, engaged healthcare professional who is interested in using his or her voice to promote thought leadership and valuable information in our industry. Why is this a good idea for healthcare professionals? Well, at a basic level, these activities help fulfill their responsibilities to cure and care. On a business level, thought leadership elevates their status in the community, and might even generate business for their practice.

The concept is simple:  step in to ignite a meaningful conversation; support the platform for this conversation to continue, and drive targets to it. Then step out.  

Here are some social RM principles to keep in mind as your strategies take shape:

1. Leverage the strong relationships you have. You probably don't need to look far to find your thought leaders, i.e. "mediums."  

2. Ignite the conversation. This means providing the fuel or information that others need to start talking about a topic. Could be data, background, a point of view or a list of commonly asked questions.

3. Give the medium a platform. Social media is the clear choice of course, and thought leaders may already have a post - especially consumer digital activists - but many may not. Nurses for example are the perfect medium to help promote and spread quality information.


In the book, 'What Would Google Do', author Jeff Jarvis points out that "There is an inverse relationship between control and trust."  Meaning that the more a company tries to control how their customers share information, the less they will be trusted.  Ms. Koren's point about the healthcare industry embracing Social CRM is spot on.  I've recently heard the term 'peer-to-peer healthcare' to describe patients helping each other over social media. has a number of articles on this phenomenon.  Researchers are even trying to “enable patient communities to convert anecdotes into structured self-experiments that apply to their daily lives.”  The only constant in life is change...

Craig Iskowitz, Managing Director January 28, 2013 4:10 PM
East Brunswick NJ

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