Kantar Health Blog

Social Listening: Gathering insights through the authentic “voice of the patient”

by Brian Mondry | Aug 18, 2014
Brian Mondry

The social media environment currently provides thousands of online outlets for patients across all disease areas to discuss healthcare issues, and patients are talking in ever-growing numbers. This has resulted in the availability of large volumes of online patient-to-patient discussions around issues that are directly relevant to many of the business issues facing the pharmaceutical industry. It is imperative to tap into the content of these discussions to provide true, actionable recommendations around these business issues.

When many people think of social listening, they tend to focus on the quantitative data coming through, such as brand and/or category discussion volume, share of voice and sentiment around clients’ brands. Through all social media analytic platforms available in the marketplace, these are presented in visually appealing pie charts and graphs that provide an aggregate view of all the activity going on across the online properties where patients gather. These quantitative metrics can be of value, albeit limited. We always want to be checking the pulse of our brand as it relates to how it is being discussed online, outside the confines of a doctor’s office and independent of a moderated patient interview or focus group. These quantitative metrics may even serve as a warning sign of an upcoming tidal wave of negativity that may soon drown out the “controlled” messaging developed around your brand for marketing purposes.

However I believe the true value from social media analytics comes from extracting qualitative insights by conducting a deep-dive analysis of the content of the actual discussions taking place around a disease, your brand and competitive brands. This can be of great value for addressing issues related to the patient experience around a disease and specific therapeutic solutions.

The data coming through social media analytics include unbiased, unfiltered conversations being conducted in a natural environment. And yes, in 2014, I would consider these online patient communities or forums where patients with shared conditions congregate as natural an environment as an in-person support group or a Starbucks.

Patients and caregivers initiate these discussions on their own volition. They are not doing so because they were prompted by a researcher. These online discussions are taking place in the natural environment of a patient community or discussion board, not in a focus group room or on the phone with an interviewer. This results in true authenticity that cannot be replicated in traditional research environments. When we “hear” what these patients are saying in the online space, we are exposed to the true voice of the patient.

But how do we harness this authentic voice of the patient for business insights that will help direct real-world business issues?

As there is no way to ensure that the opinions being voiced in the social space are representative of the patient and physician universe, we believe social media data must be integrated with other datasets when advising clients on major business issues. These datasets include insights coming from diverse methodologies such as online research communities, traditional qualitative and quantitative studies and desktop research.

Social listening can be used as a standalone methodology when such analysis is for tactical issues related to marketing or advertising, such as advertising and patient education material messaging and, to a lesser degree, online media ad placement. It also works as a standalone when one needs to understand the messages prospective patients are exposed to about their brands, messaging that is – unlike that on an advertisement or company online property – beyond our control. Patients are influenced by the messages they hear in the social space, so it is imperative that we have an understanding of the messages that are out there as a much larger number of online patients read these discussion posts than write their own.

At Kantar Health we have also used social listening to help inform traditional quantitative and qualitative studies. Traditional research requires knowing  the best questions to ask, and social listening is ideal for open exploration of a topic to know what the major patient issues are during any given time period.

So whether you want to understand patient quality of life, brand switching behavior, cost or co-pay issues related to your brand, efficacy across a range of brands, or unmet needs that your pipeline drug may be able to meet, tapping into the authentic voice of the patient should be an integral part of your quest for true insights.

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