Selecting an engagement channel and identifying audience needs

By Paul Grant

In this article, the third in a series of ‘how-to’ guides for the pharmaceutical industry, Paul Grant looks at considerations around channel selection and the unique participant needs for which online communication can be planned.

Previously we looked at how to start preparing for engagement through ‘scenario planning’ on the presumption that issues, questions, complaints, objections and challenges (among other things) might be raised by people who regularly use these channels. These common considerations are quite often irrespective of the channel chosen for engagement.

Naturally, this does lead to a fundamental next question for a pharmaceutical company: “Which online channel should we use for engagement?”

Conversational channels

Each online platform or channel – whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any of the many other websites where people network and share content – provides an opportunity to add value through meaningful content contributions. When used well, such channels can increase public awareness around important health issues or may even build a positive reputation for the pharmaceutical company or indeed the industry as a whole. In previous e-Journal articles, we have seen some great examples of pharmaceutical engagement in social media.

Herein lies an important point; if we plan to participate in a conversational platform and are not able to add value – how will we be perceived? If we are unwilling to behave in the same manner as other participants, can we expect to be treated in the same way? Are the benefits of participating greater than the risks?

Engagement considerations

Mindful of this, online engagement by a pharmaceutical company should be carefully considered in the context of aspects such as the:

  1. risk profile of the company – is your company committed to innovating and exploring the possibilities or will cautiously iterate its involvement?
  2. level of control available on the proposed platform, for example:
    • Is it possible to ‘pre-moderate’ content before the public sees it or does it use ‘post-moderation’ – where content is made public and may only then be deleted or modified? Is there no moderation at all?
    • Will the pharmaceutical company be an active moderator of online conversation or is a third-party in control (e.g. platform admin, other individual/s, agency)?
  3. amount of reach or influence of the conversation within the community
  4. ability for that conversation to cascade to additional audiences outside the immediate conversation.

Online market research into channels and audiences

We can also use online market research and better understand the channel or audience to:

  • Become familiar with the general sentiment towards pharmaceutical companies prior to participating in a potential online channel
  • Build insights about the characteristics of the community and the tone of voice the community uses with each other
  • Identify the key topics of conversation; this may be useful so that topic responses can be ‘pre-approved’ for addressing a particular standpoint
  • Assess the opinion or advocacy that the majority position holds. A majority position might be defined by the common view of the greatest number of participants; it may be the ‘average’ viewpoint, or perhaps even the viewpoint of those with the greatest influence
  • Profile the types of people that may be likely to participate in a conversation with a pharmaceutical company.

Audience and participant profile assessment

Each forum for conversation will attract a particular audience type that is aligned around one or more interest areas. Try to understand why certain groups come together in a conversation. Looking at role descriptions or job titles of the participants may give a basic sense of the general demographic; however there may be more subtle nuances creating common ground. How are participants connected to each other? How do they influence each other? How do they influence audiences outside the conversation?

People will only choose to participate in an online conversation with a pharmaceutical company because they perceive a need that is sufficiently great for them to take action. Often there is a ‘surface’ need (i.e. to get information, to share an opinion) underpinned by a need behind the need (i.e. …to advance my career) [See Table 1]. Understanding these underlying needs is vital for preparing engagement responses.

Table 1 - A template for considering the needs of participants

Table 1 – A template for considering the needs of participants

By completing the exercise in Table 1 for any proposed channel for engagement, it is possible to consider potential conversation flow or opportunities for objection, which may need to be incorporated into a generic scenario planning process.

Be aware that rarely, if at all, will participants be concerned with understanding the needs of a pharmaceutical company.

In the next article within this series, we will look at developing a ‘tone of voice’ and preparing ‘pre-approved’ content for conversational platforms in response to these scenarios.

Photo credit: Frau Hölle / Foter / CC BY-SA

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Meet the Author

Paul Grant