Today, 8 out of 10 US healthcare companies boast of an online presence on the World Wide Web, reports PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in its April 2012 consumer survey report. However, only a select few firms are strategically regulating and managing their virtual presence. This is surprising, considering social media is changing interaction between consumers and health companies – giving insurers great opportunities for recording and charting online consumer trends to expand brand visibility and devising future market strategies.

Of the 1,060 respondents surveyed under the PwC consumer poll, 42% US consumers have accessed social media to analyze consumer reviews about a health service, product or application. 25% of total respondents have posted their health experiences online. More interestingly, one-third of the surveyed consumers are comfortable with their social media conversation monitoring, if the data collated can be helpful to insurers and providers in dispensing better health services.

Consumer decisions – preference for payers, health services; lifestyle choices; online click patterns; – can act as key indicators of consumer preferences that are often influenced by various demographic, social, economic, environmental & cultural factors.

Careful collection and analysis of consumers’ online behavioral patterns can help businesses develop predictive models that can help in identification of past, current and future consumer and market trends. The results from predictive models can help businesses specifically tailor product advertisements and online campaigns. So, instead of just responding to consumer trends, businesses can anticipate future trends and market their offerings effectively to generate maximum positive responses.

CaféWell, a social health network is redefining the way employers and companies keep their employees engaged in wellness activities, thus driving up fitness levels and reducing costs to the company. A recent data analysis of CaféWell’s 350,000 strong member list identified that 68% of network users have increased their weekly running or walking timelines, 29% have lost weight and 22% of the network group experiences increased brand affinity with their health plan.

In 2007, California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) conducted a one-year online marketing campaign “From here to Maternity” to test and compare cost-effective and efficient customer outreach models. One such model included purchasing relevant Google “ad words” and using consumer targeted marketing to direct consumers to CHCF website through strategic ad placements across different websites. The online ad campaign dramatically increased user visits to CHCF websites. The report concluded that identifying and understanding the end consumers is critical to boost online sales. The report also determined that instead of using mass email techniques, using popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo can drastically increase brand visibility and can help in considerably reducing costs.

To develop a competitive edge, health plans need to aggressively invest in targeted online marketing campaigns based on online consumer preference metrics. Google Analytics is one powerful web-based utility that allows businesses to generate reports based on different consumer demographics.

For this very reason, hCentive’s WebInsure suite of products come equipped with out-of-the-box integration with Google Analytics that helps clients gather insights on past & current online consumer trends. Insurers and carriers using hCentive’s WebInsure products can generate detailed reports based on customer demographics such as age, gender, income, geography. To study visitors’ traffic on company websites, clients can download traffic source reports that can help in formulating successful social business strategies, to drive and channelize consumer traffic to client sites.

As of February 2012, 73% of all Americans use online search engines to locate the information they need.

With increasing access to the internet, this trend is expected to grow at an explosive rate. Strategic online marketing based on consumer trends can help businesses drive traffic to their sites resulting in improved plan and service enrollment figures.

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