By Brian Castle

As my colleague, CPH founder Paul Meade, recently noted, there are many ways to identify your key customer segments and get insights from them. While we’ve used lots of different survey tools for this purpose, one of the newer methods we’ve been using is social listening.

The Digital Landscape of Healthcare Is Complex and Changing
While social listening certainly isn’t new, it hasn’t been all that effective in healthcare applications until recently. The health space is different, due to the interdisciplinary nature of the stakeholders, many of whom can be practicing healthcare professionals, medical educators, researchers, investigators, and patient advocates, sometimes all at once. Naturally, the advent of digital expression in healthcare has been uneven, but as younger generations assume leadership positions in the industry, they are integrating analog duties with their devotion to digital, not the other way around.

A Once-Lagging Industry Is Now Ripe for Understanding
The digital age in healthcare is now very much upon us. And we should all be listening to the exchange of information and expression of opinion and experience going on in an array of channels, ranging from Twitter to Reddit and of course blogs and sites dedicated to medicine. There are many approaches you can take, and the beauty of the situation is that you don’t have to choose an exclusive avenue of research to better understand your customers and their needs.

Who Are You Listening To?
There are at least three great ways to approach social listening, from our experience.

  • Your Analog Customers and Stakeholders
  • Specific Communities of Interest
  • All Disease State Stakeholders

Listening to Your Analog Stakeholders
As with any other sector, healthcare entities know many of their customers and key stakeholders, whether they are patients, payers, physicians, or providers. They can glean incredible insights, often corroborating those gleaned from traditional survey and interview methods, from social listening. It’s also true that these same insight patterns may be stopped in their tracks when compared to differing opinions or experiences online.

Regardless, if you’re ignoring what’s happening online, you’re ignoring another angle of the prism from which you can view your customer experience and engagement.

Targeting Specific Communities of Interests
While many may take a necessary shortcut (for budgeting and time purposes) for understanding customer experience from the perspective of smaller and perhaps higher-priority groups, social listening allows for sufficient insight harvesting from other targeted groups, without taking months of research and blowing up your budget. With great social listening tools, you can get quick identification and analysis of the larger patient population and its experience, in addition to the beliefs and perceptions of patient advocates and patient advocacy groups.

Getting the opinions and tracking the expressions of specific communities of interest, whether previously known and prioritized, or not, is now a routine function in the digital world.

The All-Stakeholder Approach
Another great way to approach social listening is to go in with an agnostic mindset and have the tools, driven by artificial intelligence and algorithms, reveal to you who’s shaping your disease state online. We call this the all-stakeholder or ecosystem approach. Think of this approach as a keyword-driven and free text-driven way of painting the canvas of customer experience. No matter where you sit in the industry, you can look at all types of healthcare professionals, from primary care and specialty physicians to all manner of allied health professionals. From a provider standpoint, you can get perspectives from individual clinics and hospitals to centers of excellence and health systems with multi-state footprints. Patients, as in our example above, can take into account those who receive treatment, as well as advocates and advocacy groups. Even payers can be measured, from health plans at national and regional level to formularies and retail pharmacy.

The bottom line is that the sophistication of the digital landscape of healthcare now has formidable tools we can apply to build understanding, better engage customers at individual level and as groups, and continue optimizing the customer experience.

About the author

With over a decade of experience in consulting and client management, Brian serves as the liaison with our consulting, research, and accounting divisions. Brian consults with clients on cutting edge work centered on understanding customer sentiment and impact in digital/social media. 

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