Using data for insights that engage, educate patients
This article is featured in O’Dwyer’s Oct. ’18 Healthcare PR Magazine.
We encounter new challenges within the health communications sector nearly every day. Publications across the U.S. have lost nearly a quarter of their staff members during the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center. News cycles are becoming increasingly crowded, and “fake news” accounts on social media are actively spreading misinformation about various health conditions.
With fewer reporters covering health news, and a multitude of voices competing for attention, it’s now more difficult, and more imperative, to reach audiences like patients with accurate health information. Therefore, communicators must truly understand how their audiences are structured, who these individuals look to for information and how they share information.
The evolving communication landscape
Fortunately, along with their challenges, social media platforms like Twitter offer communicators a window to help better understand key audiences and how conversations within these groups are shaped. Through their public posts, health audiences are leaving behind a wealth of information on the best ways to reach them and the messages that are resonating. If groups such as patients and advocates are talking about an issue, it’s very likely that someone is tweeting about that topic. Increasingly, this is the case on even the most arcane medical issue. Twitter’s success as a communication tool, and as a research resource, lies in its encouragement of people to follow and mention other individuals, and point to web links with further information. Engagement details can help communicators identify which websites and sources of information are most likely to reach which audiences, and the influencers who are most likely to spread key messages on a topic.
With these data, it’s possible to develop an effective health communications strategy to move any issue. JPA has been honing its capabilities around leveraging these publicly available discussions to shape communications campaigns for more than a decade.
JPA recently launched GRETEL®, an insights engine comprised of both objective data collected through the above approach, along with our subjective analysis of the key groups engaged in health issues throughout the world.
GRETEL utilizes publicly available data in which we cluster audiences based on data from more than 335 million accounts on Twitter. For any given health topic, we can see 10,000 to 15,000 people who are most influential in that space. The GRETEL platform is now composed of millions of data points and continues to capture more data, effectively getting smarter every day. When combined with human intelligence, new insights can be derived. This enables the communication team to develop content and engagement strategies that really resonate.
Take, for example, the complex ecosystem of vaccines. Using GRETEL, JPA quickly separates the trolls and bots from the real people who have concerns about vaccinations. Further, the team identifies the audiences who are most likely to be influenced by the anti-vaccination conversation, and the advocates of vaccines who can best reach those same audiences.
Equally compelling, we identify the language used by each type of stakeholder, such as patients and healthcare providers, so the messages we craft will better resonate with each key audience. Language precision can be the difference between a group of patients or physicians widely sharing a message or dismissing a piece of content almost entirely.
Defining influence and news cycle trends
JPA gains insights into health discussions by understanding their structure. For example, we capture and analyze publicly available information on Twitter related to the structure of health conversations. Through this analysis, we’re able to identify the most influential individuals within conversations about specific health topics, and the media outlets they engage with most frequently.
While the structure of conversations is important it’s equally important to track the conversation in real-time. This approach often uncovers something unexpected such as related conversations that is gaining the attention of the audience.
For example, a recent New York Times front-page story described a controversy on the failure of oncology researchers to disclose contributions from pharmaceutical companies. Tis article resonated with oncologists and within pharma conversations but, interestingly, did not spark much conversation among cancer patient advocates.
At that same moment in time, cancer patient advocates were focused on Olivia Newton-John, or more specifically on the language used in describing her cancer progression. The language distinction (progression of metastatic disease vs. new cancer diagnosis) discussed in relation to her cancer progression is an important topic for cancer patient advocates, and likely overshadowed the New York Times story on financial disclosure. It’s likely that this piece would have received attention from advocates, if the timing had been different.
Analysis of the health communications landscape makes it clear that each audience has its own news cycle, distinct from the larger media landscape. When posting content, it’s imperative to understand the evolution of the real-time conversation within the audiences you’re aiming to reach.
Use metrics to demonstrate success
It’s equally important to demonstrate the impact of content with precision. Too often, communicators rely exclusively on metrics such as PR impressions, which can give a sense of overall conversation volume but don’t offer insights on the audiences that are discussing a topic. As the communications field becomes increasingly integrated, impressions are being replaced by metrics that directly measure a campaign’s resonance within a specific group of stakeholders.
With GRETEL, we demonstrate success by:
- Defining key audiences that an initiative is aiming to reach.
- Measuring the amount that the members of that audience are discussing messages and content related to the campaign.
- Demonstrating topic and message pull-through to additional audiences and corners of the media and social media landscapes.
We track in real time the audience of each placement and the reach of each mention in social media. Our approach simplifies a noisy communications landscape. We’re able to see if high conversation volume around a topic truly reflects resonance within a community, or is being driven by other factors, such as a small and vocal group of individuals, or even an overactive bot account. If one were to just measure conversation based on how often a brand or topic is mentioned, it would be very difficult to demonstrate impact with that level of precision.
The breadcrumbs that are left behind by healthcare audiences are the key to understanding and reaching these key stakeholders. While speaking to everyone might be an important goal, making sure you’re reaching your targeted audience with compelling messages often creates the greatest results in health communications. Impacting the right people with engaging health communications information is an important step toward helping everyone live healthy and fulfilling lives.
Ken Deutsch is Executive Vice President at JPA Labs and heads JPA Health research and analytics practice.