While there’s been listicles upon listicles of the hottest trends, this is one for the healthcare and pharma crowd. From voice search and artificial intelligence to content marketing and influencers—here’s what you need to know for 2019.

Trend #1: Voice search finally caught on

While some of us may remain hesitant to voluntarily bug our homes, Amazon’s Alexa companion app was the most downloaded app from Google and Apple on Xmas. In fact, 20% of all online searches are now through assistants like Siri and Alexa. That number is expected to grow exponentially in the next year with an estimated 200 billion voice searches per month anticipated by 2020.

While you may be thinking voice search is for checking the weather and requesting songs, it’s actually being snapped up by healthcare innovators. You can now check emergency room wait times across NYC’s Northwell Health urgent care centers with Alexa, get hospital info from your bed in Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and diagnose depression and respiratory issues with PureTech Health’s vocal biomarkers. Food for thought if you’re in the market to produce an award-worthy disease awareness initiative with real impact.

Novel applications aside, voice search will fundamentally change how we write copy. It will need to be concise, conversational and full of keywords so it’s read aloud as an answer to a voice-based query. Also, don’t forget to submit your website and blog to Google News Publisher so it can be more easily found.

Capitalizing on this shift is going to be especially tough for pharma, where language is often heavily edited by medical, legal and regulatory for accuracy and compliance.  Similar to the advent of social media, we need to collaborate with these functions to find a way forward. After all, voice engagement is going to be another metric executives will expect to see on that quarterly dashboard.

Trend #2: The chatbots will see you now

In the 2018 Chatbot Report, over a third of 1,051 US adults under the age of 64 thought chatbots should be used to get quick answers in an emergency and detailed answers or explanations. It’s no wonder that artificial intelligence (AI) has been embraced for digital consultations.

Harvard’s Buoy Health is a hypochondriac’s dream with data on 1700 medical conditions from 5 million patients derived from 18,000 peer-reviewed papers. While, GYANT is a multilingual triage bot with real-time physician consults via Alexa and Facebook messenger. According to a GYANT team member, their tech consulted over 1 million people for Zika virus in Brazil, pre-diabetes in Europe, and acute illnesses in North America. AI platforms are the future of disease awareness campaigns – gone are the days of funnelling people to an unbranded microsite-based survey to raise awareness and measure intent.

If Buoy and GYANT were to have a child, it would be Babylon Health, an app providing chatbot consultations based on subscribers’ personal medical history combined with common medical knowledge. Diagnosis looking serious or complicated? Babylon seamlessly moves users to a real-time video chat with a physician. The UK National Health Service (NHS) is piloting the app as its first touchpoint for primary care.

Digital consultations is just the tip of the iceberg—AI is set to transform healthcare end-to-end including drug creation, precision medicine, virtual nurses, medication management, health monitoring, medical records and healthcare systems analysis. To stay relevant, its critical clients are prepared to communicate their perspective on this trend and how it will evolve their business.

Trend #3: Content marketing—still hot since 1895

Content marketing may be the buzzword on everyone’s lips, but it’s been trending since John Deere published its first agricultural magazine for customers in 1895. Producing “helpful” content to boost brand awareness is the oldest trick in the book; however, social media has put a finer point on how important it is to have a strategy around content.

A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, found that we engage with content most in the morning when we’re alert and want to seek info, least in the afternoon (think 3pm slump), and somewhat in the evening. Therefore, boosted content—which looks different from organic content—is inadvertently an external cue to our tired brains that it’s important. Sound odd? Boosted posts in the study earned $60,921 more revenue in the afternoon than in the morning. Whether you’re posting for sales or to build brand equity, timing is critical to engagement.

It may sound like a lot of work, but according to the Content Marketing Institute, when you provide valuable information you’re creating a bond. 68% of B2B content marketers reported to CMI that their audiences view their company as a trusted resource as a result of their efforts. In pharma, we can use all the goodwill and trust we can get.

Trend #4: Micro are the new macro (influencers)

While brands are falling over themselves to engage celebrity and macro influencers with followings of millions, studies have shown that micro influencers—people with followings of 5K to 25K—may give you more bang for your buck.

According to Tap Influence who analysed 4K influencers and 70K posts across blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Google+, found micro influencers receive 4 times more engagement than macro influencers. Furthermore, top performing campaigns across the study sample revealed campaigns with unusually high numbers of engagements resulted from the handiwork of 30+ micro influencers posting about a particular topic. Pretty impressive considering a band of micro influencers cost a fraction of celebrity or macro influencer campaigns.

So where do you find these magical micros? There’s loads of networks cropping up such as Tribe and for healthcare specifically, WeGoHealth. After partnering with WeGo, Sunovion saw impressions for their COPD campaign increase from 100K to 13.2 million and 87% of people who saw an influencer-shared Sunovion product asked their doctor for more info. The campaign only cost 3% of their overall communications budget. While WeGo’s influencers are trying to stay in the good graces of regulatory agencies – watch this space for increased regulation as the line between influencing and advertising blurs.

You may argue that macro influencers are still the best for creating widespread awareness and their endorsement lends credibility that you can’t get from micros. While that may be true, The Social Chain Group found that big brands are often unknowingly paying for fake influencers who buy followers and engagements. Using their tool called Like-Wise they audited 10,000 influencers and found 25% engaged in this type of fraud. In one case, an influencer who charged $1,000 per post had a fake engagement rate of 96%!

Generally, authenticity isn’t an issue with micro influencers because they aren’t in it to make a living—they’re just passionate people who appreciate a few bucks for their time.

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Shalon Roth

Shalon Roth

Shalon Roth has spent the last 15 years on the front lines of PR and communications agencies serving start-ups to multinational publicly traded companies. She’s the founder of PR-it, a global community of communications experts delivering 24/7 on-demand work for agencies and curated project teams for brands. She also co-authored How to Succeed in a PR Agency: Real Talk to Grow Your Career & Become Indispensable (Routledge 2019).

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