Hearing Patient Voices: How Medical Marketers Can Use Layered Listening

Originally published on saatchiwellness.com on August 16th, 2017.

As social listening capabilities continue to grow, medical marketers can better understand and target current and potential consumer populations.

For decades, pharmaceutical market researchers have relied on relatively static research techniques in order to learn about how patients think and feel about their conditions and diagnoses. Focus groups and consumer surveys, for example, have long been a trusted source of information—and in the digital age, social listening offers a different kind of opportunity for learning from patients and caregivers.

Social listening is an online research technique based in keywords and key phrases. Much like a search engine will turn up results for a given query, social listening research depends on key phrases and terms, and yields results from social media sites.  Here at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, we’ve leveraged traditional social listening techniques, but tweaked them to be specific to healthcare.

In healthcare, social listening is particularly valuable because of the different ways patients might describe their condition and treatment experiences in an online social setting, versus how they might behave in a focus group or even their doctor’s offices.  As a result of our research, our clients are better equipped to target hyper-specific patient groups online, develop increasingly impactful messaging, and fill urgent information gaps.

But while social listening is important on its own, it’s even more valuable when taken alongside traditional research techniques. That’s why SSW has partnered with Verilogue to introduce Layered Listening. With access to both online and in-office patient feedback, we can uncover key differences with respect to the way patients talk with one another vs. the way they talk with their doctor. Armed with these insights, we’re able to explore new and distinct methods of communication both in-office and direct-to-consumer.

Below, we’ll take a look at the four primary layers that drive this approach.

Layer 1: Online Scale

The first fact we seek to establish is the scale of the online conversation surrounding a particular condition or treatment—especially in contrast to disease prevalence. This gives us a sense of how many patients for a given condition are actually active in social media.

Take, for example, multiple sclerosis (MS). We already know roughly how many people have been diagnosed with MS in the United States. By monitoring social media, we can determine what percentage of them are talking about it online. Is it tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? How many patients are discussing MS online in a twelve-month period? If a significant percentage of patients are discussing a shared condition online, that may signal an information gap — one that medical marketers should seek to quickly fill.

Layer 2:  Online Themes

Once we know how many people are involved in the conversation, we identify what the dominant themes of their conversation are. This often turns up rich overlaps and surprising contradictions between what we may already know from traditional researching techniques, and what patients are saying to each other online.

Themes related to condition and treatment vary pretty widely based in the category and the maturity of its players. For example, if a new therapy is introduced into a cluttered category with established players, early adopters of the new treatment will typically compare it to established treatments they’ve tried before. When conversations like these happen online, they provide rich intelligence for marketers to use in adjusting campaign messaging and targeting techniques.  

Layer 3: Online Platforms

Understanding where patients speak and connect is at the heart of social listening. Without this type of research, marketers would never know which social media platforms to connect with patients on. In this way, social listening becomes a roadmap marketers can use to know where to connect with patients, at different points in their diagnosis and treatment journey.

For example, patients might complain about onset symptoms on short-form social media platforms like Twitter or Tumblr, but once they’re received a diagnosis or start treatment, they might turn to Forums or Facebook communities to discuss treatment choice and management.  

One clear example of this is with the Acne category. Acne patients tend to look for detailed advice and information about treatments that are effective over long periods of time. And so, many acne patients will take to forums and online communities in order to engage in thorough discussions of treatment efficacy and side effects, over time.

Layer 4: The Exam Room

For some marketers, social listening dovetails very nicely with in-office dialogues. And so, by partnering with our sister company, Verilogue, who provides a this important type of in-office research, SSW is able to tease out the key areas of overlap and disconnect in the way patients talk about brands and disease in these different contexts.

Final Thoughts

Patients are already engaging with one another online — all marketers need to do is pay attention to what they’re saying. By tuning into these conversations, we’re able to continuously gather patient feedback from populations that span income brackets, ethnicity, and geographic locations. The information necessary to inform strategic outreach is out there — marketers need only make use of it.

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