In an Online World, Don't Forget the Offliners

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Cheryl Lubbert, President and CEO, Health ­Perspectives Group, LLC
Cheryl Lubbert, President and CEO, Health ­Perspectives Group, LLC

Cheryl Lubbert
President and CEO,Health ­Perspectives Group, LLC

In today's marketing environment, it's almost impossible to look away from social media.  And this pressure is compounded by our personal experience, as we each struggle to keep up with our own social networks.

According to a study by the Pew Research Internet Project, 87% of adults use the internet, and 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year.  But half of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies are not actively engaging with patients through social media, according to a recent IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics study.  Who could blame us for feeling behind the 8-ball as an industry?  

However, these 87% and 72% statistics have a flip side: 13% of people are NOT using the internet at all, and 28% of internet users are NOT looking online for health information.

As the trend to communicate with and educate patients online continues to dominate, we can't lose sight of the “offliners”—those who don't share or seek health information online.

There are many reasons people are not looking online for health information.  A Pew analysis reports that “age and education are the most significant predictors of internet access, followed by health and disability status.”  Pew also reports that three-quarters of US adults who have less than a high-school education say they do not get health information online.

No matter what the reason, there is another fundamental truth that we must not forget.  People still crave personal interaction.  There's a level of trust that happens when you have an in-person relationship that just can't be recreated online.

As part of our work to capture real patient stories to share online and off, we just got back from a cancer support group meeting in the rural Carolinas.  At this meeting, patients admitted that they were not on the internet. It seems terrible to leave these patients out of the education and communication loop.

The takeaway is that pharma marketers need to think about how they are building holistic relationships with consumers, using all available channels, both digital and traditional.  This means every blog post and tweet needs to continue to have an offline equivalent.  As patents expire and biosimilars and more generics come on the market, the one-on-one relationship with consumers built online and off, is key for pharma loyalty and trust.

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