With an incredible amount of schooling and very different job demands from most, it is easy to think of physicians as a very separate community. While physician seek very different content on the internet from the average consumer, be it penicillin resistant bacteria strains or the latest lupus clinical data, their methods of looking for information online do not deviate as much as might be anticipated. In the physician community, one particular way of obtaining information for professional purposes that is seeing unexpected growth is the use of content other healthcare professionals have written online, or professional user-generated content (UGC).
A recent Manhattan Research study showed that two-thirds of physicians say they rely on professional UGC on various types of websites including closed social networks, blogs, comments on articles and video-sharing websites as a professional resource – one of the most dramatic channel source shifts seen over the past year. Comparatively, nearly half of consumers use UGC for health issues. This trend brings with it challenges for pharma marketers, but it brings opportunities as well. It allows marketers to maintain physician mindshare online as well as get a strong pulse on physician chatter and topics of interest.
Physician uses of social media for personal reasons are not always as different from mainstream Internet users as one might believe. For example in 2010, over half of physicians are now using Facebook, a large increase from last year. Additionally, the majority of physicians visit YouTube as well – nearly 2 in 3 physicians are using this website for personal or professional reasons. Contrary to expectations, the number of physicians using closed professional networks is significantly smaller than those using UGC in relatively more open forums. In 2010 less than one in five physicians used such professional networks and year-to-year growth is modest. This disparity discounts the notion that physicians’ professional interests must be looked at in an entirely different lens as other tech savvy internet users when it comes to digital consumption.
These findings suggest that marketers interested in leveraging UGC for market research should look both near and far. This can be done by monitoring the “buzz” online in addition to tapping into closed social networks, similar to how other verticals are monitoring consumer online conversations. Physician-only communities provide focused insight into professional issues and allow companies access to a vocal contingent of physicians. User-generated content in open forums however, has the benefit of leading to a greater understanding of a larger proportion of physicians’ vantage points.
Beyond using UGC for market research, marketers looking to take advantage of UGC to message physicians should consider opportunities near free-floating UGC, in addition to opportunities provided by social networks. For example companies can maintain a presence within online journals and professional websites that offer blogs, which allows physicians to post articles
With user-generated content becoming a more integral aspect of how physicians acquire information, it is clear that staying in stride with a YouTube-watching, Facebook-updating physician community will become even more crucial in the upcoming years.
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