A recent study shows that social media use is increasing in the medical device industry, but companies remain cautious in setting a social strategy.
• Risk versus ROI
• Social media as a listening tool
• Still room for opportunity
Reviewing the results of a recently completed end-user study, it is clear that social technologies have made some inroads into the medical devices industry, as they have in the greater healthcare industry in general—but there is still a ways to go. The study, “2011 U.S. Social Media in the Medical Devices Industry,” was conducted by Frost & Sullivan. This article highlights some of the areas where social media is taking hold in healthcare.
As social media and social networking technologies have increased their general awareness in corporations across all vertical markets, at issue is just exactly how to derive the most business value out of the tools—in other words, what is the ROI of using social media as an outreach tool?
Companies are certainly aware of the fact that employees will bring their own devices to the workplace, and are free to tweet or to post on Facebook on their own time on their own device—but they are less certain as to whether these activities actually impact the business in a positive way.
It is important to know that there exists a distinction between social media and social business. Social media is a general, catch-all term for technology channels used primarily for marketing communications and to promote and broadcast marketing-related content and messaging. Incoming messages can also be captured, and these messages can form part of a company’s marketing communications, client service, or community strategy.
Social business, on the other hand, refers to the adoption of social media and a range of other communications and collaboration tools to support the internal and external information-sharing needs of the organization. Social business primarily focuses on the enabling of technology to share documents and data that allow users—both internal and external—to collaborate, so that business can get done more efficiently.
Because many organizations are unclear of this distinction, they mistakenly presume that adopting a social strategy at scale simply implies letting everyone tweet on Twitter or post to their Facebook walls during the workday. While Twitter and Facebook can be great tools for both communicating messages and listening to stakeholders—indeed, social media is part of a social strategy—their use isn’t necessarily the approach that should be adopted by all companies.
Marketing, but also listening
Increasingly, medical device and healthcare companies are leveraging social media not only as a low-cost marketing tool but also as a channel to indentify perceptions of their brand or treatments—the number one benefit of social media according to survey respondents. Armed with greater market intelligence from the everyday user on issues of dissatisfaction and features that provide the greatest value, developers, researchers, and manufacturers can integrate that feedback into the design process for future devices.
Of course, very rarely do companies wish to hear negative perceptions or dissenting voices, and so fielding complaints or a loss of control of the conversation were cited in the survey as strong risk factors in the adoption of social media and social networking technologies. For medical device companies, the raising of regulatory issues with FDA was found to be the biggest risk to social media use and adoption.
What about the patients?
However, the increasing role of patient influence in treatment selection and new legislation placing greater scrutiny on direct industry relationships with caregivers open a door in which social media could play an increasingly important role in understanding market needs and pain points.
Over the next 5–10 years, we will see the rise of patient groups that are increasingly leveraging social media to better understand available treatment options. Hospitals as well have begun to embrace social media marketing avenues to build interest around their treatments and services. As the products and treatments developed by the industry are being discussed through these forums, manufacturers must find means to ensure the most up-to-date and accurate information is available for doctors and patients alike.
Medical device companies can also benefit from listening to multiple voices—not just patients and doctors. One of the more popular, regularly scheduled Twitterchats is the #HCSM event, which takes place Sunday evenings on Twitter. To join or monitor the discussion, simply tweet and include the #HCSM hashtag. Each one-hour event boasts more than 1,000 Twitter messages, and participants include physicians, pharmaceutical and medical device company representatives, hospital executives, journalists, venture capitalists, and others interested in the intersection of social media and healthcare.
Making it official
Less than half of companies surveyed (48%) claim to have an official social media presence, in which information or recent developments are shared. As such, there clearly exists a market opportunity for companies to increase their public presence via the social networks, as consumers—and even B2B buyers—now expect companies with which they do business to present their products, services, leadership, and other information in a consistent, easy-to-use format that is also easy to find.
A clear market opportunity exists for the medical device industry to further embrace both social media and social business.
Individual, professional use of social media (59%) has certainly paved the way for formal introduction into the medical device company or hospital workplace. While the biggest reason to use social media for business purposes is for connecting with colleagues (75% of respondents), other purposes, such as researching the market, connecting with customers, and project collaboration, are increasing.
The increasing use of social media for professional purposes is, no doubt, due to the use of smart phones and tablets—64% of respondents indicated that they use a mobile device to access social networks. Companies can take advantage of the proliferation and usage of such devices by allowing employees to carry out part of their work responsibilities via the mobile device.
This strategy of allowing employees to rely on their own device is nicknamed BYOD—Bring Your Own Device—in which the company allows and even encourages employees to use their own devices during the workday, but then any company-owned software can be installed, with the appropriate security layers (of course).
Everyone is happy, plus the company saves money, since it doesn’t have to buy and issue devices.
Over time, smart phone and tablet penetration is bound to increase, given the increasingly mobile environment, especially in the sales and business development function. Medical device, equipment, pharmaceutical, and other healthcare manufacturers with sizable sales forces will clearly see an ROI on social media use when a mobile sales force communicates, learns, interacts, and engages more efficiently.
We hope to update this study next year, and we expect to see the use of social media in the industry increase significantly.