Online patient reviews are extremely influential. So powerful that they can “make” or “break” your business. As a health blogger, I have experienced this power of influence first hand. Not so long ago I had a brachioplasty from which I developed a few minor complications. I wrote about the complications in a mostly positive manner, but the photographs of my arm wound were rather alarming.

The photos and details of my recovery were so alarming, in fact, that almost immediately several patients phoned the plastic surgeon to cancel their surgeries. These people did not know me. They knew the plastic surgeon well enough to have put their lives in his hands. And yet they were motivated to cancel their surgeries with the surgeon they trusted based upon a review from a fellow patient whom they did not know. This is an indicator of the power that patients now hold over your brand.

And as I said, my review was mostly positive. Never did I blame the surgeon for what happened. In fact, I praised him for the excellent care that he provided to manage my complications. Imagine the impact to his private plastic surgery practice if I had maligned the surgeon in my review. It would be ruinous.

There is a notorious case wherein a patient heavily leveraged social media to defame the character of her plastic surgeon. This patient claimed that the surgeon maimed her during her procedure and left her to suffer. The extent to which the patient went was extreme. Not only were particularly scandalous comments posted on patient review sites, but the woman also created several websites and videos/DVDs to detail her pain and suffering and to discredit the plastic surgeon.

This social media assault went on for several years, and even though the surgery took place more than a decade ago, the surgeon is still bantered about on online patient communities. It seems that the plastic surgeon saved his practice at the cost of thousands of dollars spent per month in online advertising to grab more share of voice than the negative reviews. But countless surgeries were cancelled by patients and, more than a decade later, patients continue to be influenced by the reviews and look elsewhere for their plastic surgeries.

Let me put this power of influence into a context that most people can relate to. Have you ever not gone to a particular restaurant or seen a certain movie because a friend told you it was “bad”? Yes, of course. That’s exactly my point.

We easily can see how the power of influence of online patient reviews might affect a pharmaceutical brand. And they have. Checkout: Pfizer ChapStick controversy (bit.ly/ChapStick1), J&J Motrin Moms (bit.ly/MotrinMoms1), Merck and BMS change.org petition (bit.ly/MerckBMS), Pfizer Heartland Institute (bit.ly/HeartlandPfizer), BMS Abilify Kills on YouTube (bit.ly/AbilifyKills), Pfizer Zoloft Woody Matters (http://www.woodymatters.com), Sanofi-Aventis Voices Facebook page (bit.ly/SanofiVoices), and GSK’s Facebook page (facebook.com/GSK), just to name a few.

Easier and faster than it is for a pharmaceutical brand to post online promotional materials, a dissatisfied patient can use social media for instantaneous share of voice with your patient population, and with the implied credibility (s/he is one of us), to discourage them from buying your brand.

  • Cheryl Ann Borne

    Cheryl Ann Borne is a digital marketing strategy consultant and an obesity health activist with significant experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Writing as “My Bariatric Life” on Remedy Health Media’s HealthCentral site, she has 65,000 unique monthly readers.

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