07 Nov 2013

Healthcare Brand Engagement Tricks That Definitely Don’t Work

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Forget everything you know about brand engagement (and punctuation). We’re entering a scary place: social media and healthcare. The case study for this lesson in healthcare brand engagement will be the following tweet shared by a brand with a verified account:

There are few things that make you stop and go, “Wait, what?” when it comes to things brands say on Twitter and the like. The worst you see is an off-color errant tweet from a shared Tweetdeck, someone not paying attention to a hashtag or some new, horrible attempt at trendjacking. We may even be getting desensitized to it to some degree (although, please, please be careful and unlink your work accounts from personal accounts, marketers).

Pepto committed none of those offenses. By the letter of the social media engagement guide, Pepto did nothing wrong (outside of comma usage). The community manager merely poised a question that is in the right neighborhood for the product they sell, hoping to see mentions and conversation flare so they could check a box on “engagement” for the day. It was relevant to the company. It was thought-provoking. It’s been written hundreds of time before with different products.

This is a widely well-known brand that has been known to go down this route with its marketing in the past in direct marketing to consumers, an advantage it has an over-the-counter product. The channel has changed, that’s all, and that’s why this tweet is causing a bit of a storm (PR Daily wrapped up some great responses, and Business Insider called it the grossest tweet of all time). The simple reason: perhaps it’s because no one wants to think of a stomach medication in the same way we think of our Oreo cookies, or no one wants to admit to it, at least.

That said, the counter argument is that people are choosing to follow a stomach ailment medicine. What did they think they were going to get out of it?

Last year, I wrote a little bit on this topic thanks to a perfectly tongue-in-cheek article from satire experts, The Onion. The lesson, of course, stays the same: if you think about a healthcare product the same way you think about a soda, a shoe or a soap, the likelihood of it ending pretty is really, really low. The safe mode is to keep your tips to healthy eating and nutrition when you’re at a broad level. Sure, that can get boring, but something radically has to change before the public is willing to become diarrhea brand ambassadors.

The future of social media in healthcare is engagement, as it is in every vertical; it just needs to be a very different kind. It needs to involve support and advice, and probably a little less bathroom humor to be successful.

Dave Levy
Senior Account Manager

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