Healthcare Consumers Rely on Consumer-Generated Content

One in five online consumers are exposed to media created by other consumers that could influence their use of drugs and other medical products and services, according to a study by JupiterResearch.

“It used to be that people thought of online discussion boards and email listservs as the primary way to connect to other consumers or experts,” said Monique Levy, the lead analyst on the report. “We have to look at this more closely and understand that consumers can be exposed to content that other consumers produce in many other ways.”

Examples of media online consumers use to discuss health issues include support groups, live chat, instant messaging, blogs, and email, among other online channels, generating what JupiterResearch calls “consumer-created health content” (CCHC).

An important characteristic of that content is its specific nature. An online survey of 321 U.S. participants in online support groups found the leading reasons cited for visiting such CCHC groups included: to see how others are coping (41 percent); discuss medications or treatments (39 percent); and to discuss their condition or diagnosis (37 percent).

“Another key issue is what they’re getting from these interactions,” said Levy. “They’re looking for concrete information, not just a shoulder to cry on or comparative stories. We see questions like ‘Who’s your doctor?’ and ‘What dose did you take?'”

Online consumers are also significantly influenced by CCHC. Approximately four out of five online CCHC users said they have changed their behavior, improved their emotional well- being, or enhanced their understanding of their condition as result of visiting such groups. That proportion is roughly equivalent to the impact health-related emails have on online consumers.

The volume of CCHC users could potentially weaken pharmaceutical marketers’ control over their messages. Yet because of their Internet habits, such people are also highly accessible online through email marketing and search engines, Levy added.

The report offers three suggestions on how marketers can effectively target the CCHC audience: First, they need to refine their messages to speak to consumer concerns, using such tools as FAST Marketrac and Cymfony’s Digital Consumer Insight. Second, they must work with publishers such as About.com to leverage inventory around support groups in unobtrusive ways, using sponsored links and notices.

Finally, they should experiment with sponsoring expert content from healthcare professionals, targeting CCHC users. As an example, the report cites Crestor’s launch of crestorfacts.com, a streaming video in which a doctor explains the company’s cholesterol drug and addresses safety issues.

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