PR View by Sally Barton

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Whenever the subject of healthcare and new media comes up, the refrain is almost always: “we're way behind.” No doubt, there is truth to that lament. We may all be eager to jump into the digital revolution, to talk to everyone who's talking about us, but we're often limited by the regulatory environment and a lack of guidance. This is true, but it doesn't mean we're helpless.

Medicine is more personalized now. It evolved because the industry listened to its customers. And listening will transform it again. Identify where your audience is spending their time online. What are they saying? Who is influencing their decisions? How do you recognize when it's time to pay attention to specific chatter? Remember that stories have a much longer life online.

RSS readers such as iGoogle or Netvibes can aggregate relevant blogs and news sites. Look for trends and apply metrics to your findings for clarity. Results from search engines vary, so use multiple sources and then use the same search tools regularly so nothing is missed. Locate viewership stats, traffic log data or the number of RSS subscribers by using free tools such as Quantcast; one popular metric of influence is the number of links. This can be found easily on sites such as Technorati. If you find a blogger with relevant information, search the site for additional posts for more insight.

There is always a way into these conversations. The deeper understanding you have of your audience, the better chance you have in identifying opportunities for a compelling, productive engagement. And the better the understanding, the stronger case you can make to your regulatory team. By actively listening, we are in a position to create the change we want to see.

Sally Barton is EVP/head of North American healthcare at Cohn & Wolfe
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