Monday I participated in the Healthcare Blogging Summit 2006 – The New Rules of Marketing workshop that was held as part of Consumer Health World in Washington. DC. The workshop was organized by Dmitriy Kruglyak of The Medical Blog Network. Here are some of my impressions from the presentations and side conversations that occurred during the day.
Steve Rubel of MicroPersuasion kicked things off with an overview and typology for the blogosphere using astronomical metaphors (centers of gravity, planets, shooting stars). He talked about the sources, or beginnings, of the new media revolution as having their roots in four technological developments (decreasing costs of bandwidth and storage costs, increasing mobility through wireless applications, the emergence and evolution of social network sites, and the increasing power of search technologies) and a social trend centered around the erosion of public trust in many public institutions – with the obligatory nod to the Edelman Trust Barometer data (his employer). Three other notable points he made were:
A sense from the latest release of Technorati data that blogging may be peaking, perhaps reflecting that everyone who wants to blog already is. The hallway chatter during the rest of the day was not ready to go with the saturation interpretation, but the trend is worth watching.
In response to a question, and what became a recurring theme during the afternoon, about how regulated companies (i.e., pharmas) should use social media (aka, ‘turn on or turn off the comments’), he opined that companies in these circumstances should ‘do what they can control’ as they ease themselves into these spaces (and the legal beagles figure out which perceived threats are real and which are not).
In another round of questions about building traffic to health sites, Steve suggested a ‘sponsorship’ model as the way to go. I asked how he reconciled this recommendation with his earlier comments about the public’s lack of trust in institutions. I don’t think he did and my takeaway is that he needs to work out that position a little more. We all need to experiment with answers.
Some of the other moments during the day that left an impression with me:
Real interest in by members of the audience in who the top healthcare bloggers are. Several speakers and panelists who were asked dodged the question. Finally, Fard Johnmar, after presenting the results of a global survey of healthcare bloggers his company just released suggested three:
- Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine
- Matthew Holt at The Health Care Blog
- John Mack with Pharma Marketing Blog
There is also a lot of interest in having the FDA begin to attend to and at least comment on the uses of social media such as blogs and social network sites. Among some of the attendees, there is the sense that no ones really knows if the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research is even paying attention to what is going on with the use of social media promotions by pharmaceutical companies. And if they are, what they think about it. Many folks would be interested in attending a meeting to learn the answers or at least start a conversation about it.
Jay Bernhardt from the CDC discussed the challenges he faces as a federal official trying to blog, and the more general issues raised by internal clearances that make operating in the open social media space (i.e., ‘comments on’) so difficult for the CDC (and by extension, I would assume all federal agencies). We later heard from his staff about their use of social media in their flu shot marketing program. The outreach efforts and webinar for ‘mommy bloggers’ were well-received and commented on by the audience. As one participant remarked: Some of us (bloggers) do want to change the world in our own little ways. Made my day! [Disclosure: I do work with the CDC on social media and marketing.]
Patricia Goldman described the work the March of Dimes has been doing in developing a social network site for parents of preemies. Share Your Story has over 15,000 members and 1,000 blogs.
In a sentence that deserves wider attention in the healthcare field, Nicholas Jacobs, CEO of Windber Medical Center and Research Institute [and who I see is already signed up to speak at the next Healthcare Blogging Summit in Las Vegas, April 2007] stated that his hospital pays out the equivalent of 4% of their insurance premiums in lawsuits filed against the hospital, a strikingly low percentage relative to the hospital industry as a whole that he attributes to the patient-centered, open and transparent culture embodied by the work force. I double-checked this figure with him afterwards just to be sure I heard it right. There is also a line of research showing that physicians are less likely to have lawsuits filed against them by patients when the doctor-patient relationship has similar qualities. So open and honest relationships between healthcare providers and consumers could be an alternative response to people running for cover and demanding legislation to protect their current ways of doing business? And if, as several participants suggested, healthcare becomes a centerpiece issue in the 2008 Presidential campaign, will the voices of the people (aka bloggers) be a force to reckon with on these and other issues – I sure hope so.
The workshop was attended by about 70 people at its peak, and 2/3s were still hanging in there when the panel I was on went live at 4 PM.
By then, I was quite surprised that 4 hours into the workshop [note the subtitle] no one had made any attempt to figure out who was in the room to tailor their comments to. Before the session started, I asked moderator, Toby Bloomberg, if she would quickly poll the audience to find out who were bloggers, what types of businesses they represented and some other questions to get a sense of the audience. Quick take; most were bloggers and healthcare, nonprofit, pharmacy and agency representatives. Talking about this later with Katya Andresen, she said she found the same thing: among bloggers the emphasis tends to be on ‘the voice’ rather than on the audience. A good point that I’ll be keeping in mind from now on. Somehow, my assumptions always surprise me.
Enoch Choi and Shahid Shah focused their panel remarks on the strategy and risk mitigation tactics people can use with blogs and social media (‘comments on or off’ issues). Elisa Camahort and I talked about how community and organizational culture issues affect if and how social media are successfully adopted and used by organizations. I used my recent post about the CIA, blogs and wikis to illustrate the point that it is the culture of sharing that is one of the necessary precursors for successful and sustained efforts in this arena.
Two other memes of note: Reputation was used in a number of presentations to talk about how and why organizations should get engaged with social media. The point is that reputation is enhanced or diminished in the blogosphere, whether the organization participates or not. Reputation enjoyed a brief moment of popularity in PR circles in the 1990s – perhaps it’s time to check in with that concept again as it relates to new media. Maybe it would stop some of the misuse of the B(rand)-word.
John Bell of Ogilvy was the only other person during the afternoon who talked about community from a strategic POV – forming them and interacting with them. In a follow-up conversation, he mentioned that ‘Community Management’ groups were fairly popular in PR agencies at one point. I think one of the BIG contributions of social media lies in the power to enable communities to form, norm, storm and perform more quickly; engage participants beyond demographic and geographic categories; and create voices and votes that can initiate, support and sustain changes that benefit our common good and public health. I suggested to John, and recommend to you, Communities Dominate Brands for some more stimulation along these lines.