The Role of Social Media – Survey Talking Points

for DHC & WEGO Health March 30 Webinar


The Role of Social Media Survey

In an ongoing research partnership, the DHC Group and WEGO Health have surveyed over 250 patient and patient leader members across 150 condition areas to understand the role of social media as it relates to health decisions, what channels patients are leveraging for healthcare related information, what channels they trust most as it relates to healthcare information, and what types of content they’d most want to see from pharma on social media. 

Yesterday, March 30, these results were shared with over 100 live webinar participants, and discussed by a panel of patient leaders and industry experts including:

With moderators: Richelle Horn of WEGO Health & Christine Franklin of The DHC Group

A summary of the findings and discussion is captured here, and the webinar recording is now available on demand.  A full research report will be published in the coming weeks.


Social Channels of Today

One of the research goals was to capture the overall role that social media plays in patients’ lives OUTSIDE of healthcare. Respondents were asked to share the social channels that they use and then break those channels out by the types of activities they use them for – allowing them to select all that applied. (to get news, for entertainment, to connect with others, and to explore new products and services.)

The results showed that the respondents most leverage Facebook, and then YouTube for their overall social media utilization.

While Facebook dominated every category, there were some interesting nuances between channels such as:

To get news:

For entertainment:

To connect with others:

To explore new products and services:

We also looked specifically at how respondents interacted with social channels specifically for the purposes of finding health information. They were asked to select all activities that applied, and once again, Facebook is the biggest source for health-related information and support, though influencers with more followers are more likely to also turn to Twitter for information and to share experiences.

A theme began to emerge, as even 69% of the respondents who didn’t have “patient influencer” status reported having joined condition-specific groups on Facebook, 63% have shared patient/caregiver experiences on Facebook, 70% have read about others’ patient experiences on Facebook and 65% have looked to Facebook for emotional support.

In reacting to these findings, the panelists were quick to point out that ….

“Much of this [shared patient experiences] is taking place in groups. We’ve seen the ads Facebook is running for groups.  Privacy is important.  There are conversations that patients want to have that they might not want to have in a public forum.  I think that’s why these results show Facebook is the highest category.” Marissa Thomas

“While we haven’t started sharing on TikTok yet, I see it as a fun and unexpected way to share experiences. You have the opportunity to blast out information that’s also really creative to people that may not have had exposure [to the topic] at all.”  – Jasmine Souer

“We are also seeing Facebook starting to invest quite heavily in the functionality of Facebook groups, so it is a focus for them moving forward.  With regard to social channels more broadly, I’m a big fan of the crawl, walk, run strategy – so as a first step to the social media space, Facebook is a great place to start.

As marketers continue to evolve their strategy, looking for other platforms where you know your audience is participating in that conversation is so important. You need to have a multi-channel strategy for reaching your audience where they are.” Jess Botting

“TikTok has been able to capture this very unique interest and is able to tap into that for each individual user with their “For You” page.  When you pair that with an element of randomness in the algorithm which makes the content experience so rich and deep, it’s a different way that they bring the value forward. The organic element still exists in TikTok, so if you have your hashtag strategic intact its possible to have it discovered by your intended audience.” Jess Botting


The Role of Social in Healthcare Decisions

The questions in section two are designed to help understand how patients approach seeking out health information on their social channels. We asked: “when using social media platforms, how do you and members of your condition community navigate health condition information to find what you feel will be helpful?” They had the option to select all that apply to them.

Picking up on the theme from the previous section which demonstrated a desire to hear from other patients on their health experiences, most respondents indicated that they are watching health content shared or discussed by either patient community leaders or experts, followed (with 67%) by health content that their network has interacted with – but this appears to be happen in an organic fashion through their feed, as just under half of respondents indicated that they ever factor in content’s overall popularity.

When we consider the balance between engaging with content served up in their social channel vs seeking it out, we see that while patients report being slightly less likely to actively search health content or use the channel to learn more about health info they’ve heard elsewhere, still over half of the respondents report performing these searches.

The results of a follow-up question “what role does social media play in researching a medication or health information that you or members in your community have heard about? (Select all that apply)”, the thread of the importance of shared personal experiences carried through – with the top responses being that patients are either looking to answer specific questions about their personal experiences or, after a doctors visit, looking to ask people in their networks about medications and conditions. And interestingly, just over half acknowledge that they are seeking validation from their network about whether to talk to their doctor about health information.

The panelists shared insights on these findings, as well as the concept that pharma’s role on social media needs to be more expansive than just awareness building:

One of the reasons we created “For the Breast of Us” was our recognition that we were both outliers – young black women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.  We couldn’t go into the existing breast cancer support groups and find women that looked like us, or even find patient stories of women that looked like us. Social media has allowed us to do that. We were able to create a hashtag to help women of color with breast cancer to connect and address some of the unique barriers to quality healthcare.” – Jasmine Souer

“We have found that a lot women connect with each on social media after being diagnosed [with breast cancer].  The algorithm of these platforms make it so that you can connect with someone who is looking for some of the same information or are following the same people. One of the amazing things about social media is the ability to get more information than you would otherwise have in front of you – treatment options, medication considerations [etc].” Marissa Thomas

“Social media can support every stage of the consumer journey. It’s so important to A) understand what your customer journey is and B)  plot out the stages and then understanding where social can fit into EACH of those stages. Social can fit into each one.  There are so many different applications including paid ads, organic content, community management, social listening, or even just measurement and targeting. 

When we consider the role of pharma specifically in the environment that Jasmine and Marissa are describing, the focus should be on providing patient stories. This area is one that a lot of marketers are exploring already, but still has a lot of room to grow.  It’s been proven through studies that having an authentic human face and story to communicate a brand message is going to be more impactful than using your TV commercial in a social setting” Jess Botting


Trust in Social

With marketers already facing barriers to entry on social due to regulations and brand safety concerns, yet recognizing that it’s also critical that pharma participate in the dissemination of scientific, credible information to patients, we took a look at the importance that patients place on verified health information.

90% of respondents shared that it’s at least somewhat to very important to them that a social media platform/site let them know whether health data related posts are verified as accurate information, with a full 2/3s saying it is very important.  When asked to consider the trustworthiness of specific channels, As it relates to trustworthiness of health-related information on social media, respondents said they had the most trust in Facebook and YouTube – followed closely by Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin. Newer channels like Snap and TikTok got the lowest rankings. Completed on a rating on a scale of 1-5, most of the channels scored between 2.8 – 3.1.


Pharma Content on Social

Obviously a section with significant interest to the DHC audience, the survey asked patients to consider what types of content they would most like to see shared by pharma brands/manufacturers on social channels.  The overarching emphasis on shared, authentic experiences came through here as well: patient stories and experiences shared via pharma brands tied for top raking with access and patient support program information.  Respondents also rated content focused on drug safety and efficacy, related lifestyle & health education are nearly the same value, along with a desire to pharma actively debunking online myths.

The panelists concluded the discussion with a focus on where pharma fits into this framework, and what they would encourage marketers to do next. 

 The first thing is authenticity. I have seen some companies that are doing a great job at that. Story Half Told is one of the best examples, it’s an interesting focus, less on the drugs themselves, more on the lives that the patients are able to have because they are on the medication. That angle of being really human about the content is what people want to see and really appreciate. Community engagement is also very important. Engage with patient communities or with the organizations and businesses that serve those communities when you are trying to create content.”
Jasmine Souer

“Definitely the personal experience – for anyone in pharma, don’t be afraid to reach out to patients to hear more about their experiences and help them tell their stories. If you do have a panel of patients, make sure your panel is diverse – not just racially, but economically, geographically [etc]. Consider hiring patient navigators or patient advocates who can go out to patient communities and talk about their personal patient experiences as well as access and support programs.” – Marissa Thomas

Facebook released a report recently on brands who have included diversity and inclusion in their marketing materials, and they found that diverse/inclusive ads had a higher impact on ad recall, demonstrating that there’s obviously a moral and ethical reason as well as a business reason.  It makes total sense that we need to be focusing on this more as an industry.

When we consider the regulatory and compliance challenges specifically for pharma, the most important thing is a strong partnership with your MLR team. Brainstorm and work with them to bring that new information forward in a safe and compliant manner. I have often found that MLR teams are already leaned into the social space and can offer different ways to be compliant with guidance.”   Jess Botting

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