Authenticity: The Value of User-Generated Content in Healthcare


What are consumers looking for, perhaps more than anything else?

According to a number of recent surveys, authenticity is at the very top of the wish list. In the 2017 Consumer Content Report from Stackla, the numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of authenticity. And, incorporating user-generated content in healthcare can contribute to that authenticity in an industry that very much needs it.

Consumers seek authenticity — source

What is Authenticity?

On a person-to-person level, to be authentic means to be oneself, to be genuine. It is the antithesis of being fake or phony or inauthentic. It’s not trying to be someone you are not. This gets a bit more complicated for business.

Fast Company describes authenticity in the business context as “being consistent in word and deed, having the same fundamental character in different roles, and being comfortable with your past.”

Authenticity as a business requires a certain level of transparency. It’s about being who the consumer expects you to be. But at its heart, authenticity is about having some kind of humanity, even as an organization.

How can a healthcare organization show this humanity?

Recognizing the humanity of the patients they are trying to serve is a good place to start.

Using empathy as a tool, like these healthcare companies have done, is a great way to tap into the authentic patient experience. Another good way is to turn to the healthcare consumer directly. In fact, user-generated content is seen by many as the most trusted form of content.

Using the consumer voice helps authenticity — source

Authenticity via user-generated content not only informs consumer opinion about a company, but it can also make the company more memorable and be seen as more trustworthy. One could say that it is a form of social proof. When someone a consumer already follows and trusts shares their positive opinion of a brand, or is otherwise tied to that brand, the brand is seen in a more favorable light.

Research from Ipsos MediaCT showed that user-generated content has particular value when trying to appeal to millennials.

The value of social influence — source

In a survey by Olapic, they found that people trust images created by other consumers the most, and that 76% of people find content posted by other consumers to be more authentic than a brand’s content.

People trust content posted by other consumers the most — source

The engagement factor may be particularly high for the healthcare consumer.

Patients are more likely to respond to content directly from another patient just like them than they are to content directly from the brand that is trying to sell them something.

Illness — especially chronic illness — can be isolating. Patients are certainly seeking relief from what ails them, but perhaps even more than that, they are seeking understanding. Patients want to be seen, heard, and understood. What better way could there be to do this than to use the voice of someone who truly understands their experience?

WEGO Health did a Behavioral Intent survey of patient influencers and found that the overwhelming majority of patients are sharing health information on social media, and especially on Facebook.

The social media landscape is thriving as a place where user-generated content is being created and shared by patients.

Patients and caregivers take ownership and are given a sense of control through user-generated content rather than feeling controlled by their health condition. They find meaning in sharing positive stories and inspiring content with others who may be struggling.

What is User-Generated Content?

It really is as simple as it sounds. User-generated content, or UGC, is content that is created and shared by users. This can include:

  • Comments
  • Social media posts and shares
  • Written content
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Reviews

There is particular value in video content. — source

The best user-generated content is relatable and tells a story.

There should be a mix of emotion and information. When sharing content from a user, you must always use attribution. In many cases, you should reach out to the user before sharing their content. It’s very important to respect the privacy of the healthcare consumer. It should go without saying, but you should never share UGC as your own. Not only is this blatant theft, but it also defeats the purpose.

In addition to seeking out and sharing content that is already being created, it can be extraordinarily beneficial to encourage users to create and share content. There are a number of ways to do this. You can have a unique branded hashtag. You could also run a submission contest, asking users to submit a story or an image or a video or even something like a joke. The Florida Healthcare Association sponsors a Long Term Care photo contest.

Ensure a good combination of content types.

Although UGC can be extremely valuable, that doesn’t mean you should stop creating your own content. One way to merge UGC and your own content is to make it easy for users to engage with and share your content. Great content that is easy to share can help expand your reach.

When your content is easy for users to engage with and to share, the consumer may end up doing a lot of your marketing legwork for you. It also helps to give the healthcare consumer some direction on how they can contribute. Encourage comments by asking questions. Encourage sharing by explaining how to share and why sharing is valuable to other patients like them.

Include reviews to encourage engagement.

One of the easiest ways to encourage user-generated content is to ask for reviews. A satisfied patient is your best advocate. In healthcare, reviews can help other people discover you. Research has shown that most people turn to reviews from other consumers and patients before making healthcare-related decisions, even for things like choosing a physician or selecting a treatment for an illness.

Healthcare consumers overwhelmingly value one another’s opinions. — source

Some concerns do exist

There are, however, some very understandable concerns about the role of reviews in healthcare. The American Medical Association has cautioned that “choosing a physician is more complicated than choosing a good restaurant.”

Many patients are turning to fellow patients on social media for advice on treatment options and may be weighing these opinions more heavily than the opinions of their healthcare provider. This is certainly a concerning challenge with potentially negative consequences for the patient.

For most health conditions, there are numerous thriving groups on Facebook, for example, where patients are actively engaging with one another. This includes seeking treatment advice based on the anecdotal experience of others. Getting patient leaders involved in promotion in these kinds on online environments, as seen in this WEGO Health Case Study, results in a higher click-through rate and greater engagement.

However, it is also true that an overwhelming majority of patients will speak to their doctor about something they have heard from a patient leader. A WEGO Health Behavioral Intent Study found that 93% of patients will ask their physicians about health information when it is presented by someone influential.

Despite the significant concerns posed by the prevalence of reviews in healthcare, they are here to stay, and their importance is likely to continue to grow. Instead of ignoring or even discouraging the phenomenon, it behooves the healthcare company to actively encourage patient reviews. Taking the time to read these reviews and respond to this feedback when warranted can increase patient satisfaction.

Timely responsiveness is key

When you invite patients to engage with you, it’s worth your time to respond. You don’t need to write back to every comment, but you should write back to some.

It can be especially worthwhile to respond to feedback, particularly negative feedback. If you respond to negative feedback from a consumer by making a change in response to their suggestion, this can help boost your authenticity in the eyes of consumers.

A final type of user-generated content in healthcare that has a lot of value is seeking out and hiring a healthcare consumer to create content for you.

User-generated content is definitely the way of the future. Fast Company predicts that by 2020, “most branded content will come from consumers.”

Examples of User-Generated Content in Healthcare

Real Patient Stories in Advertisements

In the past, the majority of advertisements for medications featured actors. It is becoming a trend now to instead show “real patients” and to sometimes include at least a glimpse at a real patient story. This helps the pharmaceutical company with the humanizing side of being authentic in healthcare.

One great example of this is The Excedrin® Migraine Experience. These video advertisements not only showcase a real patient’s story and experience with migraines, but they also include the perspective of the migraine sufferer’s loved ones. Excedrin then uses a virtual reality program to let these loved ones experience what it’s like to have a migraine.

These videos are educational, empathetic, and authentic. Although they are ultimately created by the business, they can still be considered UGC because the content of the advertisement is the story of the patient. This kind of video also has the tendency for more engagement, resulting in more comments and shares than a traditional video featuring actors.

Using real patient stories and innovative technology boosts authenticity for Excedrin — source

A Contest With Heart

A contest, especially one with an attractive incentive, can be a way to build engagement and encourage the healthcare consumer to create and share content. An example of a successful contest is when the patient support network, Mended Hearts, partnered with medical device manufacturer, St. Jude Medical.

Called “Thanks to LVAD,” the contest invited participants to submit a short video featuring a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) recipient and a loved one discussing how the LVAD improved the patient’s life. The incentive for this contest was a $100 donation to Mended Hearts, an organization that helps patients with heart failure. In all, 250 participants submitted videos, resulting in $25,000 for Mended Hearts.

The winning videos were then included in awareness campaigns.

Real emotion from a real patient makes a compelling case for a treatment option. — source

Participating in a Viral Campaign

With UGC, there is always the chance of going viral.

The most famous example of healthcare companies benefitting from viral UGC is the now legendary Ice Bucket Challenge. This viral spread of user-generated content not only ended up raising significant funds for ALS research, but it also helped spread awareness and helped a number of healthcare companies flex their authenticity muscles. This is an example of content created by a regular person that ultimately was of great benefit to a number of healthcare companies

Many people in healthcare, including those whose work has nothing to do with ALS, participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge. This action may not have directly helped their business, but it almost certainly improved their perception and likeability among the healthcare consumers they serve.

Pharma executives and researchers from Evotec joined the Ice Bucket challenge. — source

Starting a campaign that goes viral and encourages massive engagement and sharing can be difficult to do. There are a number of ways to encourage more engagement, but there is no magic formula to make sure it reaches true virality. However, getting involved in an existing viral campaign may be even more worthwhile. Responding to, and engaging with, the consumer is as important as working to make it easy for the consumer to engage with you.

Closing Thoughts

User-generated content in healthcare can help boost your authenticity. This can, in turn, boost your likeability and your bottom line. UGC is such an effective tool because it is significantly more engaging to patients and may inspire them to act as your brand advocate.

How are you encouraging UGC?


This article was originally published on Jan 22, 2018 at WEGO Health and authored by Kayla Nelson.

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