Let the information come to you

By Paul Grant

User research informs education website

As healthcare and pharmaceutical communication rapidly adapts to changes in regulations and best practices, it is increasingly important to keep abreast of the latest news and events, along with general information sources – as soon as they are published on the Internet. You may already have a good handle on information techniques using RSS, alerts, and mentions, in which case you may not need to read this ‘how-to’ article.

However, with so many new tools and techniques emerging everyday, its always good to see if you can pick up anything new. I’m totally immersed in this world, and yet just the other day I discovered a fantastic new tool which makes it even easier to know what people are ‘asking’ about the pharmaceutical brands that I am watching.

Sometimes it is the not so significant day-to-day changes and lessons being observed and learned through social media, which can be a trigger for implementing new creative and effective communications initiatives in your own organisation.

Isn’t this ‘social media’ considered dangerous territory for Pharmaceutical companies?

While it is true that the rules of two-way social media engagement are not fully specified for pharmaceutical communications teams online, there is of course no regulation to prevent the use of these tools for understanding customer sentiment.

More importantly, it is now possible to be a leader within your field if you have taken a small amount of time to seek out and configure your sources so that you are the one continuously known for having your ‘finger on the pulse’, thanks to your real-time streams of information.

Have you heard of RSS? I know, it is one of those ‘geeky’ technology terms which in themselves can be enough to prevent the uptake of useful services, just because they sound complicated. The good news is, for all the ‘tech-talk’, this is remarkably simple to get into.

You see, the power of the Internet is in the sheer quantity of resources and information that are available. Unfortunately it is this same vastness of information which can make a simple search in your favourite search engine seem overwhelming, especially when there are so many results which don’t have the exact focus you are looking for.

So rather than ‘searching’ for information, I personally let the information come to me.

This simple paradigm shift is essentially what RSS and social media can do for you too.

OK, I’m interested, so how do I set up my information sources?

There are a number of tools which are free to use, and may already be available through a profile or account that you are using.

For example, Google Reader is a simple tool for collecting and sorting the breaking stories from multiple sources. If you have a Google Mail account already, you can simply visit the reader website and log-in to start using the service. If not, you may wish to create a log-in username and password.

You could also use your browser, or one of many other tools that can understand RSS. It is worth mentioning that you may come across more ‘geek-talk’, about ATOM, XML, and so on, but you really don’t need to worry about understanding all that. Just choose one and you are ready to start.

I personally choose Google Reader to manage my interests in work related ‘blogs’, news sources, updates on events, and to occasionally discover other people that are interested in the same things as me, or to have conversation about topics.


Make it personal, for my interests are not your interests

Given that you are interested in healthcare, you can browse to find what are called ‘feeds’ (which just means ‘information streams’) that you may want to read or ‘digest’ every day, or every week, or whenever you have time to take a look.

When you find a ‘stream’ or ‘feed’ that looks like it has regularly interesting content, you may wish to ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’ that information source. Perhaps you would also like to give the stream a ‘tag’ or organise it into a folder for convenience.

Say you type in ‘pharmaceutical marketing’. You will see a list of websites that have ‘RSS feeds’. All that means is that the content from the website can also be read away from the website through syndicated ‘readers’. My preference is to choose the ones that have a lot of people subscribing, and are regularly updated. I like to have a trial period, and if I find that the content is not relevant most of the time, or too frequent, or in any way not what I want to be reading – I simply unsubscribe.

Search results for pharmaceutical RSS feeds

Too much information, I’m being bombarded here

It doesn’t take long to find lots of good content, so much so that you can wonder how to read it all. I find that sorting the various streams into folders helps me to prioritise content.

For example, I am generally interested in quite a few things that are not related to my work. I therefore have a folder for ‘Innovation and invention’, another for ‘electric vehicles’, another for ‘environmental economics’, and so on. I might only take a look at these non-essential folders once per week, however my Government and Healthcare feeds are read nearly everyday.

How else can I find information?

As you surf the ‘Net, you may come to a website or an article that you find very compelling – and you see that the website has a variety of other pieces that you would have been interested to know about – when they were first published.

You might already be publishing your own information feed

Did you know that you yourself may also be providing a feed to others? If you use Twitter or any other type of social media tool, there is a good chance that behind the scenes there is a RSS feed associated with it.

Just visit your page and you may notice that there is a ‘RSS icon’.

How else can I keep up to date with the latest healthcare information

Twitter and Friendfeed

Many people are starting to realise that Twitter is useful for business as well as pleasure. It is certainly one of the most concise and immediate ways of communicating with a lot of people. If you are not sure how it works, or haven’t yet had a go, please read our no-nonsense guide to using Twitter. You may find that there are a lot of useful sources on Twitter who are providing relevant information, even if you aren’t ready to engage in Twitter conversations.


Another useful tool (again by Google) is the alert function. When I am working with a brand I immediately set up alerts so that I can monitor any search results that may be picked up by search engines. It is somewhat primitive, and could result in a lot of emails that you can’t always stay on top of – but if you create a couple of rules, they can be sorted and kept away from your day-to-day and more urgent/essential communication.

Social Mention

It is somewhat similar to Google Alerts, however this has a particular focus on ‘mentions’ in conversations using social media. Try doing a search for one of your brands. After a short period, you will find some interesting results… and wow, there is an RSS feed icon if you would like to subscribe to the results.

Commercial tools

For the most serious and robust approach, there are commercial tools which enable real-time tracking of the influences and issues happening online. No one tool does everything well, so generally your digital strategists will have access to a suite of tools which enable them to keep an eye on the world wide web, from various perspectives.

In any case, if you would like to talk with a digital strategist you can contact us to find out more about these tools and services.

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Meet the Author

Paul Grant