Using Social Media to Market to Consumers of Health Products

More health care product marketers are seeing the plus-side in social media. But not all health industry manufacturers fully embrace social marketing, say Martin Greenwood from

Social media is fast becoming one of the chief means for business-to-consumer marketers to promote their brands, address the needs of consumers, and engage new and existing customers in conversations about their products. Particularly, when it comes to health-based information and health-oriented equipment or services, many online users make purchasing decisions or take specific health-related actions as a direct result of the information they find on the Internet.

Hoping to capitalize on this growing trend, healthcare brands and home medical equipment (HME) are using the Internet in increasing numbers. Social media channels – including health blogs and social sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—are being utilized to generate brand-enhancing dialogues and to educate consumers about health-related products. But, all is not golden in this brave new world.

Health Industry Manufacturers View Social Media with Caution

Not everyone in the direct-to-consumer market is leaping into the social media space, others prefer to use more traditional means of online promotion, particularly when a site isn’t ranking well. Marketers, in general, have very little control over user-generated content. Health industry manufacturers, in particular, view social media with caution. Health-related product marketers are concerned about regulatory issues and pay close attention to the possibility of legal ramifications that could ensue from negative online comments.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, requires that all health-related product complaints be reported. If any of these “adverse events” appear online in health forums, or within general content social network sites, they could be used in litigation suits against pharmaceutical or medical equipment suppliers.
Medical Marketers Slow to Embrace Social Marketing

Apprehension over what might happen if proprietary medical data was released online, or if someone representing a medical provider or product manufacturer offered faulty medical advice gives many companies a reason to think twice about social media marketing. Medical related companies must also manage compliance issues. For many in the health products field, the risks inherent in social marketing simply outweigh the benefits.

Companies that rely on Medicare insurance, or on Medicaid reimbursement to customers for the purchase of certain products (mobility assistance equipment, for instance) are more apt than other marketers to be slow to embrace social marketing and keep online customer interaction to a minimum. In this manner, home medical equipment manufacturers may exert some control over negative fallout from online conversations.
Online Conversations Increase Market Share

In this era of multiple and competing marketing channels, finding effective and proven methods to gain new customers is vital. As more people turn to the Internet for health-related information, the opportunity to engage consumers of health products, to encourage favorable online conversations, and to increase overall market share cannot be overlooked.

Search engines are now indexing social media content and even the Library of Congress has begun to archive 140-character tweets. Social media content is much more than idle online chat. It is oftentimes valuable user-generated content with the potential to positively increase search engine page rank and drive considerable amounts of traffic to a brand’s website. These online conversations can translate into a greater number of conversions, moving from mere product inquiry and discussion to true product sales.
Tactics to Maximize Social Media Marketing

Health industry marketers are fully aware that the consumer is in control and that all brands, including direct-to-consumer home medical equipment manufacturers, must find the most cost-efficient way to maximize exposure and gain a larger market share. Health care product marketers who see the plus-side in social media also understand the need to implement essential tactics to maximize social media marketing.

In addition to designing a search engine optimized website, companies can initiate several customer-centric tactics to succeed in the social media space. These include:

Educating the consumer with easily digestible nuggets of information
Providing general-use knowledge and resisting the urge to offer specific advice
Monitoring and listening in on social media conversations to obtain customer insight
Actively responding to customer inquiries in real time
Using knowledge from social media to improve customer service and customer experience
Stepping up new product development based on what customers are “saying”

People are using social media to express opinions and share experiences. They are also conversing online about specific brands and discussing the service they receive. For better or worse, marketers of health-related products and services need to become more adept at using this marketing channel to influence purchasing behavior and encourage positive customer feedback.