Health information searchers look to social media for straight talk

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Online health searchers are relying on user-generated media to learn about health and medical issues. Finding content on credible corporate, nonprofit and government Web sites - as well as on certain blogs, wikis and other social media - may be increasing Americans' trust in the information they find online, according to a study conducted in December by Envision Solutions, LLC.

The biggest lesson of thdis study for marketers - specifically those in health care - is that social media matters, said Fard Johnmar, founder of Envision Solutions, LLC, New York.

"Citizen medical experts are shaping people's perceptions of health products, services and issues in numerous ways," he said. "Marketers must listen to conversations people are having online and find ways to provide people with health content they want in ways that are relevant to their brands."

Online health searchers are exposed to user-generated media on a regular basis. In this study, user-generated media appears on the first three pages of searches 88 percent of the time.

In addition, user-generated media is likely to be indexed on the first three pages of searches conducted by Yahoo and Google.

Envision Solutions selected eight popular health-related terms that were entered into the Google, Yahoo and MSN search engines. They were "bipolar disorder," "depression," "diabetes," "herpes," "chantix," "lexapro," "Kaiser permanente" and "Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Wikipedia was the most frequently cited resource of user-generated media indexed by search engines.

The study found that searchers rely on content produced by non-profits, pharmaceutical firms, corporations and government.

For example, most of the people (32 percent) who entered "diabetes" as a search word ended up visiting the American Diabetes Association Web site at www.diabetes.org.

Mr. Johnmar said that he has three recommendations for healthcare marketers: (1) Recognize that social media is having a real influence on people's perceptions of health-related products, services and issues; (2) understand what people are saying online about topics relevant to you; and (3) provide people with health content they can use rather than carefully scripted messages.

"People are relying on blogs and other social media because they want straight talk about health and medical issues they care about," he said. "Give them information they can use and you'll be way ahead in terms of brand loyalty, uptake and word of mouth recommendations."

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