Online Communities

Blog post by Colin Hung

On Monday May 8th, I will be making a presentation alongside Dan Dunlop @dandunlop President of Jennings and Cindy Price Gavin @cindypricegavin, Founding Executive Director of Let’s Win! Sharing Science Solutions for Pancreatic Cancer. The three of us will be discussing Online Communities at the annual Healthcare Marketing & Physician Strategies Summit #HMPS17 in Austin Texas.

The central question that we will be discussing is:

How can healthcare organizations, vendors and those in marketing functions, support these online communities/peer-to-peer networks?

As a healthcare marketer, I am familiar with the challenges facing HealthIT vendors in using social media for raising awareness and driving leads to their sales teams. The first challenge is explaining to senior management that participating in social media vs advertising on social media yields better results in the long run. The second challenge is overcoming the natural skepticism that people have when they see posts, likes and tweets from a vendor account. Sadly many healthcare vendors have fallen into the rut of using social media as nothing more than a broadcast medium and advertising channel. Very few vendors truly engage with online communities.

This begs the question: should healthcare vendors get involved in online communities in the first place – either as a participant or as a supporter? Or would those communities be better served if vendors just stayed away?

In my opinion, as long as a vendor abides by the guidelines of the community and does not upset the natural flow of that community – then they should be welcome to participate. If, however, they are disruptive or incessantly sharing only their own content then they should expect to be blocked or asked to leave by the community/community manager (no different than if an individual did that).

I believe that vendor sponsorship of online communities is a huge missed opportunity. So many of the communities on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are run by volunteers who dedicate hours of their personal time without any financial or logistics support. I believe most community managers would welcome a conversation with a healthcare vendor who offered to help. That “help” could be in the form of dollars, but equally it could be in the form of graphic design help, guest speakers, promoting the community to employees/customers or even a paid conference pass or two.

If the offer of sponsorship came from a vendor that was an active/contributing member of the community, I believe most community managers would be seriously entertain the possibility of their involvement. An active vendor-as-sponsor would also help the community be more accepting of the vendor’s sponsorship. If done properly and respectfully, I believe the vendor would reap significant goodwill within the community – which in turn would raise the reputation of that company with potential customers. To me the ROI of such a sponsorship would be far greater than paying for a nice give-away at a conference.

Sponsorship of #hcldr is something that we have discussed internally a few times – and we have asked key advisors for their opinions. We have always shied away from it because we believe that one of the things that makes #hcldr special is the complete lack of commercial influence. Having said that, there are expenses that Joe Babaian and I incur. We pay those out of our own pockets because we both love the community so much. The costs are reasonable so it’s not like it impacts our ability to put food on the table. This puts us in the enviable position of not having to seek sponsorship in order to keep the #hcldr lights on.

What’s interesting to think about is what we would be able to do if we had sponsorship funding. We could use it to hold an #hcldr conference, update our website, create a scholarship fund for patients to attend healthcare events – all sorts of things. But would that compromise the integrity of #hcldr and destroy the community we have? I am interested in the community’s thoughts on this topic.

I am also interested in hearing from the #hcldr community about how we might convince physicians and nurses who are on the fence about becoming part of an online community. Yes, even though it is 2017, there is still trepidation about jumping into healthcare social media. In fact, just last week, I spoke to a person who works at a company that employs physicians and nurses to provide tele-consults to patients. This person was struggling with two challenges:

  1. Convincing these amazing physicians and nurses to get involved in social media (to help themselves and to help the company)
  2. Finding the best communities/social media platforms for them to participate in

Note: I mentioned #hcldr, #HITsm, #lcsm, #LupusChat, #hcsm, #bcsm and pointed to Symplur’s list of healthcare chats.

Getting healthcare professionals to participate on social media remains challenging. The fear of violating HIPAA, the extra strain on those who are already stressed and a lack of clear ROI (at least perceived) are the reasons I hear most often as the reason why many physicians and nurses do not participate. If you are reading this blog then I am pretty sure you know that there are plenty of resources that can help navigate through the tricky waters of HIPAA (see below). I am also sure every member of #hcldr could give 5 benefits of being involved in the community that would be very convincing in a one-on-one conversation. I would love to hear examples of those benefits from the #hcldr community on Tuesday.

Join us on the next #hcldr chat, Tuesday May 2nd at 8:30pm Eastern (GMT -5, for your local time click here) when we will be discussing disruptive innovation vs incremental improvements in healthcare:

  • T1 Should healthcare vendors join online communities or stay clear? Is there a right way for them to participate?
  • T2 Should online communities like #hcldr #lcsm #LupusChat or #bcsm be accepting of sponsorships or would they lose credibility?
  • T3 How would you convince a physician, nurse or patient to join the social conversation or leap into an online community?
  • T4 How could a community extend the online experience – perhaps to in-person? What ideas do you have for #hcldr?

Special thank you to Dan Dunlop for inviting me to #HMPS17 to share the story of how #HCLDR has become such a vibrant online community.


“Social media use in healthcare: A systematic review of effects on patients and on their relationship with healthcare professionals”, Edin Smailhodzic et al, BMC Health Services Research, 26 August 2016,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Disclosure, Doctors and Social Media”, Bryan Vartabedian, 33 charts, 18 April 2017,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Imagine the Possibilities: Taking the Leap into Social Media Engagement”, Jenny Laurello, CommonSense Blog W2O, 3 September 2015,, accessed 30 April 2017

“How social media powers physician advocacy”, Marion Mass MD,, 28 March 2017,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Providers wade warily into online patient groups, hope for benefits”, Don Fluckinger, TechTarget, 8 November 2012,, accessed 30 April 2017

“How social media can impact healthcare in the right – and wrong – ways”, Heather Mack, Mobihealthnews, 28 February 2017,, accessed 30 April 2017

“FDA Issues Draft Guidances for Industry on Social Media and Internet Communications About Medical Products: Designed with Patients in Mind”, Thomas Abrams, FDA Voice, 17 June 2014,, accessed 30 April 2017

“8 Examples of Brilliant Healthcare Marketing”, Chuck Malcomson, Hubspot Blog, 23 June 2015,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Social Media in Health Care: The Benefits, Challenges, and Opportunities”, Jylian Russell, Hootsuite Blog, 31 January 2017,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Social Media and Health Care Professionals: Benefits, Risks and Best Practices”, C Lee Ventola, Pharmacy and Therapeutics, July 2014,, accessed 30 April 2017

“How Healthcare Can Use Social Media Effectively and Compliantly”, Joana Belbey, Forbes, 21 January 2015,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Social media “likes” healthcare – From marketing to social business”, PWC, April 2012,, accessed 30 April 2017

“9 ways social media is impacting the business of healthcare”, Michelle McNickle, Healthcare Finance, 26 April 2012,, accessed 30 April 2017

“How Nurses Should Be Using Social Media”,,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Healthcare’s struggle with social media continues, but help may be forthcoming”, Neil Versel, MedCity News, 15 August 2016,, accessed 30 April 2017

“Healthcare Marketers Continue Migration to Digital & Social”, Klick Wire, 9 March 2016,, accessed 30 April 2017

“8 Exceptional Examples of Social Media Marketing in Healthcare”, HealthcareSource Blog, 9 September 2015,, accessed 30 April 2017

Image Credit

#hcldr and #HITsm meetup at HIMSS17 – Colin Hung

One comment

  1. Perhaps even better than any one vendor sponsoring the #hcldr chat might be a more ‘neutral’ vendor-related organization like one of the ‘research’ outfits. Of course Gartner and KLAS come to mind but in my opinion I think an organization like Chilmark or Lucro Solutions – these latter two being more niche, healthcare product and services intermediaries – would be better.

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