Social media "power users" favor letting companies socialize, survey finds

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Social media “power users” value interaction with healthcare companies want them regulated but around, according to a WEGO Health survey.

Of 200-plus WEGO “health activists” who responded to a poll by the firm, 63% said social media dialogue between healthcare companies and online communities is valuable, and 60% said companies should get involved in monitoring and correcting any misconceptions about their products online. Sixty-three percent agreed with the statement “open Internet and social media conversation between healthcare companies and people online is valuable and regulations should not prevent those open conversations.”

Not that WEGO's respondents – heavy users who are opinion leaders in health-focused online communities – are anti-regulation. Majorities favored regulation when companies pay bloggers to create content (66%), sponsor social networking sites for a particular health condition (55%), create social networking sites for a particular health condition (59%), leave comments on third-party sites (60%) and establish company accounts on social networking sites like Facebook (54%). But those numbers are down a bit from 2009, when WEGO ran a similar survey ahead of the FDA's public hearings on pharmas and Internet communication.

“Regulations are not as much in demand by the community as they were a year or two ago,” said WEGO Health CEO Jack Barrette. “[The internet] is now the dominant way people communicate about health and healthcare consumers would rather not see companies regulated out of the conversation.”

And many companies seem to be going ahead with social media outreach despite the lack of FDA guidance on the topic. Asked if healthcare companies are using social media tools to engage with people online, 69% said yes – a big jump over the 58% that agreed with that statement two years ago. Respondents saw more company activity on Facebook and microblogging sites like Twitter, in particular.

“The explosion of social media is contributing to a general comfort level on all sides,” said Barrette, “and health activists are seeing companies using social media to engage online and proceeding without guidance.”

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