journey

The social world of serendipity

This is from an article I wrote for Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe

No one would disagree with the premise that social media has changed how we communicate, but when it comes to the discussion of how best to use social channels, there is still disagreement around the extent to which brands should focus on placing content or planning for organic discovery. 

With the emergence of social media came an evolution of the paradigm for digital content discovery: the primacy of search to deliver trusted, timely and valuable information has now been displaced by sharing. 

And here lies the importance of serendipity. With our social feeds acting as a vehicle for the accidental, but delightful, discovery of something useful, we find content that we didn’t even know we were looking for.

Some people will tell you that the era of social media and serendipity is over, and that social campaigns should be planned for at the same level of detail and accountability as other cross-channel campaigns. Perhaps so in major consumer categories, where branded content – or its hip new cousin ‘native advertising’ – seems present at our every social turn. But in healthcare, serendipity is a phenomenon yet to be fully explored. 

Real discoveries of serendipitous content can be thought of as ‘happy accidents’. For the pharmaceutical industry, that can sound worryingly synonymous with ‘unsolicited’, but this simply highlights that the power of social for pharma lies within disease awareness. 

As digital pharma teams, we spend a lot of time placing our content exactly where people go looking for it – the familiar truism of ‘fishing where the fish are’. But this isn’t really enough. If social is to deliver on its potential for serendipity, pharma teams need to do more than sit back, relax and hope that their audiences visit the Facebook page their agency sold them – they need to provide the prompts that are so necessary to encourage voluntary sharing. 

This is achievable by focusing on three key things:

1. Understanding behaviour
To plan for success through serendipity, understanding the psychology of sharing is a must. As individuals, we share content for a number of reasons: to say something about ourselves and what we stand for, to add perceived value to our communities, or simply because we love it. If you are on the receiving end of ‘the share’, you just might stumble across the information that drives you to an action that ultimately results in a diagnosis.

2. Understanding audience personas and journeys
When it comes to social media, there is no ‘one size fits all’. Therefore, profiling your audience is key. By understanding the demographics of the social journey, as well as the implications of these on trust, preference and expectation, you can organically become part of the conversation.

3. Actually adding value

The chance of serendipitous discovery is more likely when we offer something – be it advice, content or a service – without asking for anything in return. This means actually listening to insights and meeting real identified needs, instead of following social suit with a Facebook page.

If you are still wondering where your social efforts are best placed, turn your attention away from Facebook towards StumbleUpon – a giant collection of the best pages on the internet, seemingly generated at random for your viewing pleasure. How do they do this? Understanding preference, behaviour and personas. Serendipity at its best.

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