Whether a social-networking site is direct or co-branded, user registration offers the most manageable solution to concerns
about standards and control. Having users sign in with a secure name and password (without sharing information that would
be deemed private) gives sponsors a chance to enforce a user agreement regarding the site's rules. Technology enables the
site to be continuously moderated and swept every 24 hours to enforce standards, remove inappropriate content, and respond
to other issues. Given the regulatory requirements, these protocols are essential to every virtual-patient network—starting
with the provision that a site can spur or enhance, but never replace, a conversation with their doctor.
Taking Care of Business, E-Style
Consumer-generated content is the fastest-growing segment of the Web—and blogs, message boards, discussion forums, and social
networks are sending the conversation off the charts (see "Our Big Fat Blogosphere," above).
Because of this technology, stewards of corporate reputation and brand are beginning to view these conversations as a gold
mine. After all, connected consumers (and employees) are talking about a company anyway. And now technology can identify online
influencers, monitor their opinions, and track potentially harmful issues. The real risk emerging is the risk of not mining
these data, understanding their impact, and engaging influencers in the dialogue as active partners.
This era of engagement marketing is inevitable. Accepting different, even critical, opinions is a necessary method to build
trust and create positive bonds with patients. Moreover, the best way to prevent disgruntled people from harming your brand
is to engage them. Users may be quick to disappear from sponsored sites and reorganize on others if they feel that the supporting
brands are not being trustworthy.
Consider these compelling benefits of social networks for patients, physicians, and employees:
• Increased diagnosis, treatment, and compliance
While many health-info-hungry Web surfers are early adopters, mainstream consumers are also actively looking for online medical
http://WebMD.com/ and other sites that offer consumer-health content and community play a key role in stimulating patient–doctor and patient–patient
conversations. In this way, social networks promise to increase early diagnosis and treatment.
The process of launching and maintaining an online community can help drug companies identify critical insights about barriers
to treatment. Driving, moderating, measuring, and augmenting conversations about managing disease can shape perceptions of
products and treatment options.
The low rate of adherence to meds is a chronic problem, and healthcare communities offer a unique reservoir of advice, support,
and other resources to address it. Through blogs, message boards, and other social-networking tools, members can help one
another meet this daily responsibility, while sponsors can analyze issues surrounding adherence and initiate interventions
to support it.
Social networks provide an ongoing context for knowledge exchange that is more effective than static information. By creating
a safe place for a critical mass of people in similar situations to solve problems together, sponsors position themselves
as caring partners actively engaged in consumer well-being. As a result, online communities can have a direct effect not only
on improving patient care but on building the public trust.
• Enhanced communication, trust, and influence
One of the chief benefits of sponsored social networks is improving the doctor–patient relationship. Companies can use consumer
data to help physicians become more adept at responding to patient questions and motivating patients to lead healthier lives.
In case you slept through the past year or two,
http://YouTube.com/, the free video-sharing Web site, has taken the digital world by storm. In fact, there are already thousands of recorded
surgeries posted, and professional organizations are exploring the potential of a branded YouTube-type site for surgeons.
As with consumer communities, these would be monitored and moderated, and users must agree that it in no way subs for hands-on