Listening Should Not Replace Market Research, But It Should Seriously Be Considered As An Important Supplement

Of the five main Groundswell objectives, “real insights” falls mainly within the Listen category (see Josh Bernoff video). The other four objectives are: Engage, Energize, Support, and Embrace. Listening involves really understanding what your customers are saying — if you don’t make a plan to listen and learn from your customers, you will never truly get the meaningful insight that empowers social media. In fact, there are many who have said the following in one form or another: “if you do nothing else in social media, at the very least, you should Listen“.

Many times, we think we are “listening” because we do market research and focus groups, but the issues with those are: (1) they occur in acute and “artificial” settings (i.e. at a single point in time and not in a customer’s “regular” environment), (2) they are oriented more towards the “what” and the “how” type of metrics/data, and (3) we are usually the ones directing the questions. On the contrary, Listening — in the social media sense — usually occurs in a medium/environment that the customer is most comfortable in (e.g. at home on the computer), is opinionated and therefore directed towards the “why” reasons, and is obviously self-motivated. Not to say that Listening should replace market research, but it should seriously be considered as an important supplement.

So, here are several ways that you can get meaningful insight — including some pharma/healthcare-specific examples — starting with rather simple and free tools to more “sophisticated” and cost-incurring options…

Free Tools

Thanks to Google alone, there’s quite a number of free tools that you can use to search and monitor the social media landscape for your product names and corporate brands, starting with the basic web search and Google Trends for comparing keywords (e.g. your product vs. competitors). Progressing one step beyond basic search, you can use Google’s blog search to limit search to blogs which Google archived and, additionally, you can also set up Google Alerts to send yourself an email whenever Google picks up one of your key terms during its daily scour of the web. In fact, you can even set up an RSS feed and have the alerts delivered to your inbox… Or, of course, you can also use Google Reader to read the RSS feed.

If you have a website, then you probably want to look through your Google Analytics results — watch the helpful videos at Google Conversion University for detailed info on interpreting your analytics. Finally, if you have a podcast or blog, then you probably want to setup a Google Feedburner account to help track your subscribers and optimize your feed(s) for syndication/distribution.

Beyond Google, there is a multitude of other free tools — like Technorati for blogs — that are available on the web and are designed to search specific types of social media. Read Mashable’s excellent post on “Top 10 Free Tools for Monitoring Your Brand’s Reputation” for some of the best ones.

(Free) Community Sites

When thinking about social networks, there’s often a tendency and temptation to take a “build it and they will come” approach. However, depending on who your key customers are, you might want to first consider a “fish where the fish are” approach instead. With plenty of “free” social networks — such as Facebook, MySpace, numerous (topic-specific) Ning communities, and even YouTube (both videos and comments) — one can easily find a network to peruse and discover useful information… You just have to make a point to proactively seek them out.

A great example of this is McNeil Pediatrics’ ADHD Moms Facebook page, which seeks to create “…a unique online destination where mothers of children with ADHD can hear directly from other moms about their experiences raising children with this condition“. By creating a community, McNeil has essentially created a “listening post” for issues surrounding a therapeutic area they are invested in and which they can easily monitor and manage (to an extent). NOTE: Be sure to check with your internal authorities (e.g. legal/regulatory) before creating/engaging with any public-facing web initiative.

Other great “free” destinations specific to healthcare include: PatientsLikeMe, WEGOhealth, WebMD, Revolution Health, Everyday Health, and many other health portals and forums. Also, have a listen to this interview with Jack Barrette to understand the importance of “Consumer/Patient Opinion Leaders” and their use of social media platforms to engage and influence their community.

Social Monitoring Agencies/Dashboards

If you’ve got a small budget and want more in depth information (trends, sentiment, analysis, etc.) you can start off with a data dashboard like Radian 6, which is very popular in the social media circles and has a very low barrier to entry (in terms of cost) and is very scalable according to your budget. However, if you can afford a larger budget and prefer to have someone else monitor and compile the data for you, then you should look at the various Social Monitoring agencies that offer this service.

In the BioPharma world, the two agencies I am most familiar with are TNS Cymfony and Neislen Buzzmetrics, but there’s a HUGE number of these social monitoring services with similar offerings — just check out Jermiah Owyang’s comprehensive list from 2006 (which has been updated more recently).

(Paid) Patient and HCP Communities

Now, if you’ve got the budget and a clear objective for getting insight through engagement with your customers, then you have a choice of (1) mining an existing social network/community or (2) creating your own community and inviting customers to join it.

Existing Communities

The good thing about existing communities is that you can jump right into the mix and start gathering information immediately. The best examples within the Health Care Professional (HCP) space are Sermo and Medscape Physician Connect — you can subscribe to their services in order to monitor and engage in discussions with their community. Other HCP communities include Ozmosis, iMedExchange, and Clinician 1 (for NPs/PAs), though my understanding is that they have slightly less interactive models — mainly advertising and sponsorship more so than actual engagement. For an interesting article and a nice chart of the various services, read “Behind Doctors’ Social Networking Websites” in Medical Economics.

Creating a (Paid) Community

As alluded to earlier, the choice to create your own community should not be taken lightly. Besides the high cost and time/resources needed to recruit people to your new community (which better have a good reason for them to join and stay there), there’s also a huge ongoing commitment that will be needed to nurture and grow the community. However, if done right, it can also be very rewarding, because you’ve built a community for your specific purpose, which you can then use to get deep insight whenever you need. From the patient community stand point, there are services like Communispace — which launched the successful Alli Connect community — and WEGOhealth, where you can sponsor a community around a specific health area, inclusive of a health activist/advocate for that disease area who helps to moderate and manage the community. From the HCP standpoint, there’s a service that I recently discovered called Within 3, which is like a combination of Sermo, Communispace, and LinkedIn. Within 3 offers an HCP networking community that allows members to search and connect with others around areas of interest, expertise, and even through literature database searches (i.e. PubMed) — a very interesting model that I look forward to learning more about soon.

This area of healthcare and patient community networks is growing quickly, so don’t be surprised to see many more of these pop up soon.

Shwen Gwee
Social Pharmer and Med 2.0 Blog

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