Posted At: October 27, 2008 12:27 PM
by Dana M. Lewis, Contributing Writer
Public relations has met the health care industry head-on, leading to a patient-centered and patient-focused health care system in which patients take charge of their care with the help of the Internet and social media tools. The Web has expanded this focus exponentially as nearly every disease or condition has its own set of private and public organization Web sites, blogs, networking communities and social media applications. Health care online, once thought to be used only in force-fed content Web sites such as www.webmd.com, has now shifted throughout the Web and is known as a phenomenon of its own, Health 2.0.
As public relations practitioners it is important to understand the climate of the different online communities before using or inadvertently taking advantage of them. When working with clients or organizations associated with health care, public relations professionals may seek Health 2.0 as an introduction to understanding a disease or condition, getting sources and background information or conducting primary research. Here are a few tips on how to best interact with and pitch to these online patients.
Note: These tips mostly focus on blogs and blogging communities, but they also apply toward outreach with users of social media sites (e.g., Facebook groups) and on organizations’ Web sites.
Pitching to patient bloggers: “Do unto them as you would to a colleague”
Have you ever been pitched to or received a verbal proposal that had no planning, thought or consideration behind it? Think about this when you pitch to people who write health care blogs or patient blogs. These people are people first and sources to you second. They will not give you the time of day if you send a generic e-mail or “Dear Sir” type of request to be a source or to contribute to your understanding of a subject.
Carefully write your request so that it is not offensive by including your name and organization, your reason for contacting them and what you are asking from them specifically. Do it correctly, and you may have your golden ticket to this person and their audience or community; otherwise, you may be unceremoniously blackballed.
Your chances of getting sources, ideas and content from online health care communities significantly increase if you are a presence in the community and take time to interact. Some practitioners may be looking for the rare source, but for those who have ongoing projects, or clients or agencies with strong interests in these areas, it is best to invest time and resources into the community, even if it is only to read the top blogs a few times a week. However, instead of lurking, try leaving comments in a few blog posts. The comment can be about your reaction to that particular post; a chance to introduce yourself and explain how or why you ended up at their blog; or an opportunity to just applaud them for their commitment to sharing their experiences and helping others (at the end of the day, this is what everyone is doing and appreciates receiving acknowledgement of).
What do you have to lose? Yes, your company or client may not want you to put its name out there as part of an online health community, but there is something to be said for understanding on a personal level what types of people interact in these online communities. Try starting a personal blog outside of work and talking about your health experiences, whether as a caregiver or patient with general information or posts on a specific disease or condition.
Also consider why these patients are online rather than just dealing with their health situations by themselves. Some may not have any support in their daily lives; others want to share the positive/negative experiences and educate; and some may try to raise awareness of a certain group. Walking a mile (or blogging a while) in their shoes can help you to better understand their unique perspectives.