The study, Seeking Social Solace, analyzed almost 63,000 online self-disclosures of an illness. The data revealed that:
- People disclosed their illnesses on weekdays 23 percent more frequently than they did on weekends.
- More than half of the self-disclosures took place on blogs (51 percent), while only 10 percent took place on Facebook, and 7 percent occurred on Twitter. (It’s likely, however, that the Facebook postings were understated due to the fact that researchers couldn’t access the pages with stronger privacy settings.)
Interestingly, the choice of media may reflect various reasons for disclosing a serious illness. For example, patients tend to post comments on blogs, Facebook and Twitter in order to communicate with family and friends. In contrast, they use online message boards to receive support from others who are in a similar situation.
The study also found that the type of disease appears to influence whether a person will announce and discuss it online. Specifically:
- Cancer is disclosed more frequently online than other major illnesses.
- People are more likely to disclose a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS online than cancer. (In 2010, there were 27 times more cancer diagnoses (1,529,56044) than there were HIV/AIDS diagnoses (56,30055), but cancer was only disclosed nine times more frequently than HIV/AIDS).
- The number of patients who disclosed a breast cancer diagnosis equaled the number of patients who disclosed diagnoses of prostate cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, bone cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, lung cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer and brain cancer combined. This may be because women tend to be social-media savvy and there are so many good online resources and destinations for women with breast cancer.
In a previous post, I noted that although people turn to family, friends, and support networks online, they would still prefer more traditional lines of communication when they need a consultation from their doctor.
What are takeaways for health care marketers?
- Hospitals, clinics and organizations should provide the social media and website resources their patients and prospects seek.
- Providers should find ways to harness the network of mentors that exists on blogs and other social media to assist patients in the healing process, particularly those with cancer and HIV/AIDS.
- Providers should use whatever channels are available to offer social and emotional support to patients immediately after delivering a disquieting diagnosis. (Printed lists of online communities and sources of trustworthy information can be very helpful.)