The ABCs of HEOR Social Media

February 26, 2013

If you want to elicit eye-rolling, mention Social Media to a health economist. Reducing something to 140 characters is not in our DNA, unless it’s an Excel formula cavorting behind the scenes in a budget impact model. Nevertheless, the importance and benefits of integrating social media into your HEOR (health economics and outcomes research) strategy should be considered. Not convinced? Read on…. (First, a limitation: Yes, I know that if you work within this highly regulated space, you are limited to what can be said that can be construed as product-specific or corporate promotion. This blog posting is intended to reflect those situations that do not fall under this regulatory banner. You know what they are.)

Let’s start with the seminal inquiry for any topic, and that is “from what perspective is this question being asked?” That is, who is your audience for social media? The answer to this will define all that follows. The primary audiences for HEOR include the payer (health insurer, Health Technology Assessment [HTA] body), regulatory agency, provider (medical professional, caregiver), and the patient. It could also be a client (if you are an HEOR consultant). Let’s just focus on the payer, and think specifically about a health insurance company in the United States, for this blog post. So, how can you, HEOR Researcher, use social media to communicate your message? Let’s sing our ABCs.

As I tell my children who are “in training” so that they don’t appear to be raised by wolves when in social situations, “If you don’t know what to say to someone, ask them a question about themselves.” Yes, use social media to Ask a Question. An important part of any relationship is a genuine interest in the other. If you are an HEOR Researcher practicing as a consultant or working within biopharma, I bet you have a dozen questions you’d like to ask your payer audience. So do it! For example, you might ask payers to rank order their concerns in a disease state or to give feedback on the payer’s area of focus as a company and service provider. Read their website, Facebook page, and tweets to see what they are promoting. Does your company have something better? You might present two scenarios and get feedback. Of course, these aren’t generalizable or valid responses to use for research design or a budget decision, but what you’ve done is initiated a conversation. You’ve probably begun to find out with whom to talk internally at the payer to get better information. And, you’ve engaged your audience. Quickly, simply, cheaply, and without getting on an airplane.

Borrow your customer’s terminology. Borrow their focus. Borrow their priorities. If it’s a priority to them, and you have a solution, you’ll have an audience. Borrow their tweets and their Facebook posts and their resources. But, you must absolutely give credit. Retweet, don’t just grab and re-post as if the tweet was your own. Share a post on Facebook, and give credit where it’s due. Expand the audience for the resource, but acknowledge the original author and where you got it. Here’s a real-life example. Wellpoint’s Twitter feed (@WellPoint) included these tweets: ” IBM Watson ‏@IBMWatson 1.6M new cases of cancer this year, rate of costs climbing 3X, need to capitalize on rapidly changing info @IBMWatson can help” and “‏WellPoint’s Dr. Sam Nussbaum: We have an opportunity to take big data and create personalized care. #ibmwatson #TransformingHealthCare”. Borrow this focus by WellPoint, and use it as a springboard to initiate a conversation. Is your company involved in oncology and cost analysis? Is there a chance that your goals can align with WellPoint’s goals?

Continue the conversation. Continue your presence on social media. Continue to use your regular channels of communication. Social media is not a stand-alone communication method or marketing tool. It is a cog in the wheel, and it must be integrated with your other methods in a cohesive, thoughtful way. But it is an important method to engage and establish a relationship. And business opportunities expand when you strengthen the relationship.

What say you, HEOR community? Do you feel like your relationship with payers is where it needs to be, or could you benefit from a more comprehensive relationship? A tweet will not make a relationship, but it can be a knock on the door. What have you got to lose? It’s just 140 characters.

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