Social Networking Is New Lab Marketing Channel

Clinical labs and IVD companies encourage customer dialogue at Facebook, YouTube, Twitter

CEO SUMMARY: Using social marketing sites on the Web allows labs and IVD manufacturers to interact with customers in ways that were not possible years ago. Marketers use these interactive web sites to supplement traditional methods of advertising. Inviting customers to discuss your company and products on a Facebook site can result in powerful word-of- mouth testimonials. But proceed with caution! Negative comments about your company or laboratory can pop up as well.

MEET SOCIAL NETWORKING! This is a growing, dynamic new business concept with perfect appeal to the Generation Y pathologists and laboratory professionals.

In its simplest form, social networking is a way for people, companies, and organizations to interact. Social networking incorporates web sites, cell phones, wireless devices, and similar technologies in ways that allow highly-interactive communication among users.

If you are familiar with such names as Facebook.com, MySpace.com,YouTube.com, and Twitter.com, then you know about the most revolutionary forms of social networking. In the clinical laboratory industry, a number of clinical labs, in vitro diagnostics (IVD) manufacturers, and other organizations now use social networking as a way to tout the performance of their products, create two-way dialogue with customers and prospective buyers, and learn what people think about their service.

Social networking upends the long-established ways companies use to communicate sales, marketing, and business information. To reach its market, an IVD company traditionally used print advertising and direct mail as a one-way communication to its customers. This one-way form of advertising is often augmented with press releases—another one-way communication channel.

Now social networking sites augment these traditional forms of communication to customers. “Think of social networking as public relations on steroids,” commented Rob Kinslow, Vice President, Strategic Communications for Seidler Bernstein Inc., marketing consultants in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Recently Kinslow and his colleague Nik See talked with THE DARK REPORT about how clinical labs, IVD manufacturers, and other companies are using social networking sites to augment their customer communication efforts.

“Social networking is a way to make conversation easier between an IVD company and its laboratory customers, as well as between a clinical laboratory and its referring client physicians,” said Kinslow. “Web sites such as FaceBook, YouTube and similar sites help an IVD company not only create conversations about its products and services, but encourage feedback and comments.

“Smart companies and labs can use social networking to create a community of customers and users,” he explained. “This community makes it easier for a two-way flow of information and commentary to move between all the parties.

“At the same time, since it is in the public domain, other people can tap into this information if they are seeking more information about a company or its products,” added See, who is Director of Brand Planning and Strategy at Seidler Bernstein. “People can read all the comments, good, bad, or otherwise. Like your personal network of friends, this information can often be highly credible for those who tap into it.”

Companies Use FaceBook

“We are helping clients establish FaceBook pages,” noted Kinslow. “Companies can create a Facebook page for each of their products, along with a page for their company. Social networking like this allows them to reach incredibly large numbers of people.

“Consider this: if Facebook were a country, it would be the fourth largest country in the world,” Kinslow said. “That would rank Facebook between the size of the United States and Indonesia.

“Another example of why social networking is skyrocketing is YouTube,” he continued. “Most people know that Google is the world’s largest search engine. But few people realize that YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world.

Word-Of-Mouth Advertising

“Any marketing manager at an IVD firm or clinical laboratory has a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of these social networking technologies,” Kinslow said. “As they do, it generates word-of- mouth advertising—which is the most powerful form of advertising.

“Everyone wants viral,” See agreed. “If traditional forms of marketing such as print advertising no longer seem as effective as they once were, it probably has more to do with whether they’ve been properly integrated with each other. We are big believers in integrated marketing communications.

“Social networking and the Internet offer IVD and clinical laboratory marketers useful tools to better integrate their overall marketing campaigns,” he added. “These new tools can fill the gaps and knit the marketing effort into an integrated plan.”

“We preach to our clients the value of integrating all marketing and information messages to customers and prospects,” continued Kinslow. “Print advertising still has a place because the cost per impression is still the most economical way to create awareness.

“But increasingly, you will see print advertisements point readers toward a Facebook page, for example, or to a landing page on the Web where readers can get a white paper or other information of value to them,” he explained. “When the reader responds by visiting these sites, the marketer can collect that reader’s contact information, which means you’ve got a lead for your sales force.

“In addition, you can use this information to track how well your print advertising is working,” he added. “Running a print advertisement which directs the reader to a Facebook page is just one way to take advantage of social networking.

“Another approach is to use banner ads on select websites that reinforce or supplement the message in your print ads,” Kinslow noted. “In this form, the banner ad is again like PR taken to another level because it creates two-way conversations. The customer is able to respond to you, and you can encourage him or her to take a desired action.”

See offered Gilead Sciences Inc., of Foster City, California, as an example of how social networking plays a role in marketing a therapeutic drug (and which would increase laboratory testing for that disease). “Gilead has an excellent campaign that combines print advertising and social networking,” he explained. “It wants to market its hepatitis B drug, Hepsera, for patients with chronic hepatitis B.

Educating Patients

“Under the theme ‘B Here,’ Gilead’s marketing and social networking campaign is designed to educate patients—particularly those in the Asian-American community—about the disease and the need for testing, monitoring, and education. It’s on the web at www.willyoubhere.com,” stated See.

“The goal of this campaign is to rally second-generation Asian-Americans to get tested and to spread the word about the importance of getting tested for hepatitis B,” See explained. “The landing page Gilead created for this campaign is www.asianliver.com.” In addition, added See, the campaign also uses Facebook and Twitter, the microblogging site that allows users to send messages of no more than 140 characters to alert followers about trends, news, updates about the web site, or Gilead’s products and services.

“Pathologists and laboratory managers are familiar with Myriad Genetics, which uses social networking as part of its marketing,” stated Kinslow. “Myriad pro- motes screening for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer biomarkers on its Facebook page. The campaign is called ‘Just Ask’ and promotes awareness about both breast and ovarian cancer.”

Rallying Patients Online

“One big difference between a site such as AsianLiver.com and other social media initiatives is that AsianLiver.com encourages patients to voice their concerns or ask questions of healthcare professionals,” said See. “Gilead actively encourages patients to take an action. This is different than what most sites do.

“Another social networking approach is to provide a page on Facebook where patients can comment and interact with other customers,” he said. “Through these comments and interactions, customers are generating word-of-mouth endorsements and spreading the word about your company and its products in very powerful ways.”

IVD and lab testing companies which use the web for social networking are exploiting technology to their advantage, Kinslow observed. “These pages on social networking web sites create tremendous opportunities for IVD companies to foster conversations between their customers, as well as take advantage of the information they get from customers,” he said. “In addition, they get credit among customers just for facilitating these conversations.

“There is a caveat, however,” cautioned Kinslow. “Any IVD company or clinical laboratory that markets its products and services through social networking on the web must remember that inviting customers to post public comments can be a double-edged sword.

“These conversations happen in a public forum, which means sales reps— both your own and those of competitors—can listen in. Everyone gets to hear what customers are saying to each other about your products, their experiences, and their opinions of your competition.

“If your company or laboratory wants the free publicity that comes with social media, you also have to accept that sometimes people will say things you won’t like,” added Kinslow, “which means you will have to put up with some negatives as well. That’s because these are real conversations.”

“Of course, there are controls,” noted See. “There are ways to review patient and consumer comments before they post on the web page, for example.”

“There is one final comment I’d make about social networking,” Kinslow said. “Companies are beginning to customize information and deliver it with mobile apps technology. We live in a era when people are accustomed to getting custom content—news and information tailored to their specific interests and needs. Many people don’t go looking for the news anymore because the news is delivered to them, via a mobile device, for example. That’s a big change that’s happened surreptitiously and may not be apparent until you stop and think about it.”

Useful Conversations

THE DARK REPORT observes that while IVD companies and some clinical labs have a presence on YouTube and Facebook, most clinical laboratories have yet to take advantage of social networking. That is likely to change as more labs learn how to create useful two-way conversations with their referring physicians and patients via social networking channels.

Cell Phones, Handheld Technology Foster New Online Communication Techniques

ONE FACTOR DRIVING the use of social networking is the widespread adoption of hand-held and wireless technologies. Individuals can use their cell phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants) to access and surf the Web.

“New technologies are changing everything, everywhere,” said Rob Kinslow, Vice President, Strategic Communications for Seidler Bernstein Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This is true among physicians, pathologists, laboratory professionals, and many other healthcare professionals.

“For example, it wasn’t that long ago that we advised companies against sending e-mail messages to nurses because they didn’t have access to computers,” he recalled. “That’s changing.

“Just a few years back, most physicians did not work on a computer,” Kinslow said. “Now a majority of physicians actively use computer, whether or not their practice has an EMR. Many of them are intense users of Blackberries, iPhones, and the like.

“Manhattan Research studies show that 64% of U.S. physicians own smartphones,” he said. “And company analysts predict penetration will increase to 81% by 2012.

“Similarly, radiology has gone digital and now digital pathology is coming into play,” observed Kinslow. “These mobile technologies foster social networking. This allows companies to use mobile applications to direct messages to certain users in specific locations.

“As an example, think of real-time tweets and e-mails to attendees at a trade show, alerting them to new product demonstrations or activities at the vendor’s booth,” he noted. “It’s like the buzzer they hand you at the restaurant to tell you your table’s ready. It summons you and you can’t ignore it.”

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