Human behaviour has changed. People now not only have an expectation of free and open speech but via the internet, they have the tools to practice and express that freedom. Language, borders and knowledge no longer prohibit opinions being aired and vast communities come together to be heard, none more powerful than in healthcare. Pharma's reaction to this new social world? Build higher walls, talk a lot, decide nothing, block out the sound, cover our ears and pretend to listen.
The listening dynamic
To create and effect change, someone has to listen. Listening leads to understanding, understanding builds relationships, relationships create communities, communities unite for a common goal, and stuff gets done. Stop listening and this falls apart.
Lets put this into perspective. What are the outcomes of modern social listening? How do we realise this dynamic inevery communication, every day? It's not so difficult and in fact if you think about it, its just human nature.
1. Where do we start? Simply pay attention. It is the simplest piece of the puzzle and yet the hardest for our industry to comprehend. Digital marketing allows us to understand the psychology of our audience like never before. Active listening allows us to find out about people's motivations, what information needs drive them, what inspires them, who they talk to, how they talk and who they respect. There's no need for engagement here, there's no need to talk, just to listen, think and listen again.
2. What then? Now it's time to stand up for something that they believe in. A belief is an individual or community's version of reality (think politics). You've listened so you know what your community believes; now give them a reason to want to listen to you so that they can make that choice to believe in you.
3. How? Show them you understand, make their lives better. This isn't via an app or another lazy website, this is by truly engaging and building a relationship built on mutual understanding. You can only understand if you listen.
4. How do we do that? There are three alternatives
a: Give them a service they truly need
b: Improve their experience with you or your products
c: Find a cause that's worth changing
5. Most importantly do something remarkable. When did we get so complacent? Why have we stopped aiming high and extinguishing aspirations and whole technologies with the easy excuse of regulation? Social media (amongst other technologies) has the power to bring communities together like never before. As the world becomes increasingly connected, as marketers, we must strive to use whatever technology helps us to listen harder.
6. Tell the story! The most important part of your listening, learn the language of your customers. If they think in pictures - paint, if they talk passionately - speak with feeling, if sounds resonate with them - orchestrate something brilliant – don't just tell your story, make me believe.
7. Lead and engage. At last, you have tumbled through the listening strategy and are at the tactical delivery stage of blogs, networks, iPads and personalisation. But these are just tools to help you deliver your story. These are all things that help demonstrate that you have listened. The result - inspiration. The outcome - long term, profitable relationships with your customers.
Next time you brief for a project or hear a proposal, ask yourself whether the solution in front of you is what you want, or whether it's the result of having listened to your customers. Have you been listening or just pretending?
Nick Bartlett, Head of Digital and Social Media, inVentiv Health Communications/Europe firstname.lastname@example.org