The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) may not be defining guidelines in the use of social media in healthcare communications, but the professionals within the space are rapidly shaping best practices for marketing communications.
The current issue of the Journal of Communication in Healthcare is showcasing a research study that measured the attitude of healthcare, pharmaceutical and life sciences executives on the use of social media. Survey respondents hold positions from CEO to CIO, from Marketing Director to Brand Manager, are active in their positions and serve primarily the United States. The results are surprising, especially given the historically conservative nature of the healthcare marketing community.
The survey focused on those who are tasked with the development, creation and delivery of brand and product information to target audiences. When asked about whether or not marketers should be permitted to use social media to promote their products and services to the public, most were positive. The mix of media (i.e. YouTube, Flickr, Twitter etc.) appears to be as important as the message.
The data indicates healthcare communications professionals are most reticent to adopt Twitter, a mainstream corporate communications tool. YouTube's acceptability was pervasive, in fact twice that of Flickr or Twitter. The study also flushed out a number of perceived risks of embracing social media marketing in healthcare communications.
Intuitively, Twitter would have seemed to be the most likely adopted marketing tool based on its 140-character limit: no photos, few words, simple messages and clean delivery. But this is not the case for surveyed healthcare communications professionals.
Social media has long been a resource for industries such as financial services lifestyle products and retailers, but healthcare has been slow to adopt.
Kevin Popovic, Founder & CEO of Ideahaus, conducted much of the research from the company studios in Pittsburgh and San Diego. Popovic, the co-author of the paper, explains, "We've worked with every type of business for more than twenty years. As new types of communications have evolved, most industries have kept pace - except healthcare - and the hesitancy stems from a lack of guidelines from the FDA."
"There is no question that the FDA's lack of leadership in providing guidelines has limited the broad adoption of social media," Chauncey Smith, MarketSMITH Services, LLC headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA and paper co-author, added. "Can these media be abused as a promotional communication channel by not being fair and balanced? Absolutely. But could social media become a force for positive change in healthcare? We think so, which is why we will continue exploring this topic."
This research project is a follow-up to the Popovic and Smith 2010 publication in the Journal of Communication in Healthcare (Vol. 3, No. 2) 'Tweeting @DoctorWelby: Practical Examples of Social Media in Healthcare.'
Popovic and Smith continue to believe that social media should be embraced as an integral part of any healthcare communication plan, and see signs that this is occurring with greater scale and frequency.
Read the full version of 'Attitudes on the Use of Social Media in Healthcare Communications' in the Ideahaus Professional Community, or download the article at the Journal of Communications in Healthcare website.
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