Social Media Marketing | The Health Communication Challenge


Kim Clark

on 2/11/2011

Communicating health related information has always been a challenge. Identifying demographic targets, crafting an appropriate message and delivering the message in a way that audiences are receptive to has been the charge of ad and marketing agencies for generations. The advent of internet technology is solidly changing the fields of communication and marketing and currently it falls on the industry professionals in each field to maintain a grasp on their area of expertise.

As an internet marketing professional with a background in psychology and public health, I have found that the two skill sets have merged into a new and (to me) exciting hybrid that blends marketing savvy, contemporary web technologies, and an intrinsic understanding of health initiative planning: the need for solid evaluative processes, testing and planning incorporated into programmatic implementations from the beginning, not after the fact. Gone are the days when agencies were able to throw money at a campaign,waiting to see what stuck and what fell off the proverbial marketing bandwagon.

Clients are frugal with their marketing dollars and audiences are fickle with their affiliations and their attention spans.

Solid ideas for health related information sharing abound. Non-profit agencies with great ideas, wonderful causes and grand funding to back them up are everywhere. Team members with a solid background in communication planning strategy are much fewer and farther between. In both marketing strategy meetings and health communication project design meetings identifying the evaluative process is what I consider to be the single most important strategic elemental building block and it is often the last factor to be considered.

By identifying actionable goals- what is it you want the consumer to do?- ambiguity is replaced with measurement and the steps that move users towards those tasks can be designed. In marketing,we call this ‘return on investment’, and its the benchmark by which we judge the success of a campaign. In today’s socially charged environment, sharing is believing and the nature of the social web can integrate nicely with a well crafted multi-media educational campaign. Once you have a solid campaign, optimizing it for maximum consumption and assimilation into the social web world becomes much easier.

For both web and land based programs, evaluations of progress define the usefulness of the program.

A solid marketing approach in the Web 2.0 world includes an integrated experience. Designs for print need to work on the web to further the brand identity, TV and radio spots need to improve on and re-iterate a message that exists both in print and on the web. Audiences- consumers- no longer take marketing messages at face value. Today’s audience is an active consumer of information as well as product. A good marketing campaign provides all the information a consumer needs to make their own decision, and gives them ample opportunity to find it through their informational outlets of choice: websites, facebook and twitter being the most popular. Today’s consumer audience speaks for itself. If your product does what you say it will do, consumers will market it for you. (This is the ‘Social’ part of Social Marketing.)

Facebook and Twitter have shifted the marketing paradigm.

Audiences dont want ‘you’ the seller to tell them about your product. Instead, audiences are looking to resources they trust, their social circle, to refer them to products, services and information that has been previously vetted. The ‘recommend’ or ‘like’ is a canonization that cannot be bought or sold, but must be earned. To capitalize on this social media trend, you only need one thing: something worth talking about. The story does the work here; the charge of the company, project or marketing agency is to create and market a story worth sharing. The New York times recently published an article discussing this very topic. For more information, read the New York Times article on SEO and social media optimization.

Measurable progress is a benchmark of success.

Integrating well defined, action oriented campaigns across media drives traffic (both on foot and virtual ‘visits’) to your program by reaching your target audience in the places they are most receptive to being found. For personality types that prefer social recommendations or the support of their social group, facebook does wonders for increasing socially favorable responses to change campaigns or fundraising projects. Twitter has been a boon for suggesting new services or drawing attention to breaking news, and websites are becoming the staple for researching the nuts and bolts on products and program specifics before committing to purchasing or participating. Having your program’s information available in whatever format consumers need to ‘convert’ – whether that conversion is ‘sharing’, ‘liking’, or signing up to participate, is essential to a success that can be measured and shown to be successful.

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