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Online healthcare portals and communities are critical sources for patients and caregivers who are seeking trusted information related to their condition.

Health related internet use has become one of the top three online activities in the world. In the US alone more than 100m Americans will visit the health related sites such as Web MD, CNN Health, Familydoctor.org, Healthfinder.gov, eHow Health, and Yahoo! Health.

Let’s drill down a little and focus on one of the top disease communities: diabetes.

With over 370 million sufferers worldwide, diabetes is an incredibly active online community. There are two primary sources of information for diabetes, doctors and the Internet. This opens up a wealth of marketing opportunities for big pharmaceutical companies, who are looking to present their brands, drugs, products and services to type 1 and 2 sufferers, caregivers and healthcare providers.

So the internet plays a significant role in that it enables many stakeholders within the healthcare ecosystem to access, review, interact and contribute content to the community.

Those individuals and organizations wishing to contribute to the healthcare information value chain must consider their role and the categories of content that can credibly be delivered from their position in the 'ecosystem'. This post explores and presents ideas for your content strategy in the healthcare space.

Herein lies the challenge for marketers within healthcare communities, in creating a content strategy that supports credibility and trust for its target markets.

There are portals in existence that have been created by big pharma (e.g. Aetna’s Intelihealth), that need to maintain editorial independence in order to be in any way regarded as objective, and to manage any concern about the impartiality of intent and content.

Diabetes blogs such as ‘Diabetes Daily’, ‘DiabetesMine’ and ‘Six Until Me’ have become popular destinations, and in many cases have emerged from actual sufferers who were unable to find any credible information online themselves.

Selection of diabetes bloggers

I have recently been working with Roche Diagnostics, the global provider of Accu-Chek insulin pumps and blood sugar testing devices. They are extremely conscious of their position and responsibility in the diabetes value chain, as well as the sensitivities within a highly regulated industry.

Jim Lefevere, Director of Global Marketing stated to me:

We must not be self-serving, but be here to provide better information, education and value to people so that they can take better care of themselves and live better, healthier and longer lives.

The emphasis is clearly about positive outcomes not promotion...you could say the best, healthiest PwD (person with diabetes) is an informed PwD.

The community is essentially self-protective when it comes to inappropriate content. A contributor or vendor stating unlikely claims, or being in any way promotional will be shut out of the conversation and lose respect, with associated negative sentiment/reputation scores.

Marketers need to be especially conscious of their role within the ecosystem, and look to influence, inspire and educate audiences where the value is appropriate.

So, how should a content marketer approach an online healthcare community and ensure that content is credible, relevant and supportive of the organization’s objectives? Here are a couple of ideas:

1. The customer journey of trust

Healthcare business models and online engagement are usually modeled along a lifecycle. When creating the customer lifecycle journey, consider your ‘degrees of trust’ for content categories at each stage.

For example, a diabetes care provider may consider the customer lifecycle to be:

Diabetes lifecycle

Now expand for your target audience roles, and consider the classifications of content that each of these roles would find of benefit along the lifecycle:

Diabetes lifecycle grid

Now consider which content categories would be regarded as credible, if sourced directly from your organization. These are outlined in red in the graphic, so for example a provider of diabetes insulin pumps can credibly supply usage instructions and renewal offers to sufferers and caregivers, and also supply early stage research (ideally independent) to all audience roles.

This is somewhat simplified, but starts to define trust categories of content that could be sourced directly from providers.

2. A layered content strategy

Many healthcare organizations are adept at creating and disseminating personalized content to specific targets. With effective keyword selection and targeting, search engine marketing has enabled marketers to reach their targets directly, and budget accordingly.

But social media has changed the landscape in so many ways, one of which is the elevated role that bloggers and other influencers play in the information value chain. Healthcare treatment options and purchase decisions are heavily influenced by these key influencers and the informed conversations that result.

Where it is not entirely credible for a healthcare provider to provide (say) a product comparison, a layered content strategy can enable a 3rd party to supply information indirectly on your behalf.

BUT, again be very conscious about how to approach and engage with 3rd parties. Bloggers are obliged, sometimes required to be transparent about their associations with healthcare companies. Consider in the matrix in Table two how to supply bloggers/influences with hi-value redistributable information.

Providing industry research, or market tests, or treatment tips (e.g. diabetes recipes), or red carpet access to in-house product experts can be ways to earn the respect of influencers to disseminate your content.

Layer your content depending on the number of levels of direct and indirect distributors.

Bottom line: Always be cognizant of your organization’s overriding role and ability to maintain trust, and as Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute recently stated, “make sure all the little content activities you do make one large difference in people’s lives.” Never more applicable than in Healthcare.

Andy McCartney

Published 6 March, 2013 by Andy McCartney

Andy McCartney is Founder of TechMarketer.biz and iMCCmarketing LLC, and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

7 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Ben Foster

Ben Foster, Operations Director at http://patient.infoSmall Business

As the leading independent health site in the UK we are acutely aware that our content needs to build trust and maintain credibility with every publish.

We have a broad remit in the information & research phase across thousands of conditions and then provide niche support communities around those conditions via forums.

To add to this, we make sure we are relevant and topical with news/buzz by maintaining several blogs written by qualified practitioners. Our Dr Sarah Jarvis blog is incredibly popular with our audience:


over 3 years ago

Andy McCartney

Andy McCartney, CEO at iMCCmarketing / TechMarketer.bizSmall Business Multi-user

Ben - I am actually a Brit living in the US, and am not familiar with your site. Upon review it looks like a UK version of WebMD. Relating to the blog, what kind of relationships do you maintain with healthcare and big pharma companies? Andy

over 3 years ago

Ben Foster

Ben Foster, Operations Director at http://patient.infoSmall Business

Hi Andy, yes it is a similar UK based service. We have links with UK healthcare companies and of course our media GP Dr Sarah Jarvis. If you would like to discuss in more detail then DM me @foss99 on twitter.


over 3 years ago

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