Kantar Health Blog

Exploiting the power of social media listening to understand Chinese diabetes patients’ true thoughts and needs

by Simon Li | Aug 1, 2012
Simon Li

With an online population of over 450 million, 75% of whom are using social media, it’s no surprise that China also has a vibrant and active online patient population. The Chinese culture of “Shai” (sharing or “showing off” personal details online) means that many patients keep public online diaries, openly detailing their disease challenges. Tapping into online postings and conversations gives unique and unforced summarized insights into these patients’ day-to-day behaviour patterns and needs. That’s why we set up a social media listening platform with sister WPP company CIC, China's leading social business intelligence provider, in 2011. Since then, we have been recording online conversations between large, robust samples of  diabetes patients – over  275,000 posts covering six healthcare discussion sites, including two specialist diabetes communities, to date – and will be carrying out further studies in other key therapy areas. We also scan blogs, news and trade sites, social networks and the press for further diabetes insights.

Internet-savvy patients are much more culturally inclined to bare their souls online than they would be in a traditional research setting, so we have uncovered the following insights through our study, which has been running since last year:

  • Key topics of concern in managing diabetes.  47% of patients in our sample had questions about diagnosis and therapies; 21% wanted to discuss diet and/or exercise; 20% had product-related queries, with more than half querying regimens and side effects; 11% had emotional worries or concerns; and 1% just wanted a general chat. Hot topics include pain caused by blood collection for testing and the accuracy of glucose meters.
  • Patients’ emotional state of mind and how they cope with their disease on a day-to-day basis. Newly diagnosed, experienced and “veteran” diabetes patients’ emotions swing from being pessimistic and anxious at the outset to being mainly positive and strong after a few years, to feeling almost relieved and keen to share their experiences more than five years after diagnosis. Experienced peers are also sought out by other patients (as well as medical experts) to give help and reassurance.
  • Levels of understanding of the disease, side effects and possible comorbidities. Discussions about disease complications involving just under half the sample showed that the majority of  patients were discussing nephropathy (renal insufficiency being the most popular topic), followed by cardiovascular disease and neuropathy.
  • The brands that feature most prominently in patients’ conversations, positive/negative comments on these and estimated share of market value/brand equity for key players. Glucobay™ has the highest share of voice, with most ex-Glucobay patients switching to NovoNorm® since both drugs lower postprandial plasma glucose (PPG). Gastrointestinal issues from using Glucobay are one of the key reasons that lead to patients switching drugs. Fewer discussions around key therapies like Glucobay take place during holidays because fewer hours are spent on the internet. Spending promotional dollars on online marketing at this time is therefore also less effective.


Scott Cook ‘s comment that “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumers it is – it is what the consumers tell each other it is” underlines the importance of social conversations in making or breaking brands. Plugging into current trends and conversations helps you communicate your brand to target audiences. Likewise, if patients feel your messages resonate, they are more likely to seek your brand out and listen closely to what you have to say.



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