Sermo offers online physician panels to marketers

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Sermo, a social network for doctors that claims more than 100,000 physicians as members, launched Sermo Panels, which are online focus groups that firms can use to conduct market research, on September 29.

“This is an opportunity to start an online workspace with physicians of your choice and have discussions that evolve over several days," said Greg Shenk, director of marketing at Sermo.

The initiative was created to help manufacturers, agencies and researchers in the healthcare vertical reach their target audience in a cost-effective way. Philips Healthcare is using Sermo Panels to help make decisions around event content management, as well as marketing and communications planning.

“The insights we gathered were valuable and it was more cost-effective and time-efficient than a focus group,” Candace Bowering, marcom director for

Philips Healthcare. “You hear from everybody, not just the personalities in the room. Plus, there's a level of candor that I don't think you get in the focus group.”

Sermo's average user, Shenk said, is a practicing physician, about 40 years old, with 13 years of practice experience. Marketers can target panel members by specialty to urge them to opt in for the panels. Each doctor receives a payment of at least $150 for participation in a panel discussion, which typically requires about a 90-minute commitment.

The goal of the platform is to “do research directly with doctors in a faster and more cost-effective way” than a focus group, Shenk said. There are two versions of the product: an express version, which costs marketers about $10,000, and the full version, which costs about $16,000. In the express version, Sermo provides the panel service, but no analysis, Shenk explained.

The social network is promoting Sermo Panels to pharmaceutical companies, agencies and market research firms through e-mail marketing, as well as by sponsoring sections of online newsletters that reach this group of marketers, Shenk said.

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