As social media explodes in healthcare, companies are launching new communities and communication tools to connect consumers with each other and with experts. Research has shown that consumers value learning about and from the experiences of others and receiving emotional support.
Healthcare organizations are building online support communities combined with social media tools, enabling consumers to connect with friends and strangers to share a common bond. Consumers are responding by visiting their channel on YouTube to upload a video about their personal experiences or sharing a comment about a video that moved them. They are on Facebook leaving their “thumbs up” when they like what they see. Consumers are there (virtually) with words of support for those newly diagnosed and those experiencing set- backs.
“I am scared because my child is having problems managing his diabetes at school and I don’t know what to do”.
"My MS is getting worse. I am frightened to speak with others who are further along but would like to reach out to those who are experiencing what I am right now.”
“My family is getting the brunt of my frustrations and I feel terrible.”
“Support Me” Opportunity: Provide the capability to share encouragement, validation and an emotional connection with other people and experts.
Engagement in Action:
These innovative organizations are offering consumers the capabilities to demonstrate their support online.
- Livestrong Facebook community has over 700,000 fans. Community members are extremely engaged posting pictures and comments about their most personal experiences on this very public site. Unlike many communities which have a more limited response, Livestrong is a vibrant community with hundreds of posts sharing thoughts and endless support. Livestrong also engages their community off line through events, further connecting and building bonds between their members.
- TuDiabetes ran a Making Sense of Diabetes program leading up to World Diabetes Day. Members uploaded videos sharing their experiences living with diabetes on a daily basis. Many of these videos received high ratings from the community and comments were shared showing support.
- AARP has launched LifeTuners, an online community for young adults (20s and 30s) offering “unbiased, balanced resources, information and financial advice”. Within the community, consumers are accessing advice and support from experts and their peers and rating the recommendations they read. AARP has built this support community to educate young people about the things they can do now that will impact their future. Notice the parallels with wealth and health.
- MDJunction offers an online community with the ability to share different types of visual messages such as “a hug”, “a cheer up”, “a happy for you”, “a prayer” and “a salute”. Community members can also display one or more than a dozen different color ribbons showing their support from gray for Juvenile Diabetes to black for Melanoma Cancer.
Healthcare companies need to move beyond the basics of setting up different social media destinations and envision integrated offerings that enable consumers to care for one another anytime and anywhere, through online and mobile. They also need to determine the role that the “expert” plays to support and strengthen the community.