The week, two pieces crossed my desk, helping me clarify where the future of health care information flows are going. The first was a release from comScore that spelled out how government health web sites are growing.
The whole thing is worth a read, but a few findings jumped out. First, the government’s highest-profile portals — such as NIH.gov (10 million unique visitors a month) and FDA.gov (800,000 uniques) — are growing at a double-digit rate even as the competition in the health arena has intensified. What’s more impressive was click-through rates for flu searches: CDC.gov had four times the CTR of the New York Times and nearly nine times the CTR of Wikipedia. That suggests that consumers know quality when they see it.
The second piece on my mind was a blog post from TRAACKR, which held that “influencer relations” tended to be more effective than old-school “media relations,” in part because influencer lists tend to be more narrowly targeted. (I had other, broader criticism of the piece that I aired on Google Plus.) But what got me thinking was the way that we talk about “influencers.” The TRAACKR model is based on the idea that it’s individuals that have influence, not organizations. I don’t mean to pick on TRAACKR, they do a good job of spotting people making waves online and they are not alone in an individual-focused view of influencer.
Taken together, the comScore study and the TRAACKR post suggest a disconnect. The NIH, FDA, CDC and other top government sites — sites that are increasingly the trusted source for patients looking to manage their own health — trade on the authority of the institutions, not the talented-but-unnamed writers, editors and communicators that create the much-viewed content. These folks are largely invisible to the influence-tracking industry, which is ironic, given the growing clout of these dot-govs.
The key for health communicators and integrated marketing is to take these sites seriously, and build in outreach programs that consider government health communicators every bit as important as top bloggers or newspaper reporters or advocacy organizations. That doesn’t mean the conventional methods of influencer identification are useless but, rather, that a broader perspective is needed.
As I’ve noted before, expanding our universe of websites, writers and editors we consider high-priority comes with its own challenges, and it takes a well-honed skill set that relies heavily on both public relations and an understanding of how new flows through the “information ecosystems.” Not everyone in our industry will want to tackle such a task. But we don’t have a choice. 10 million people a month hit NIH.gov. The site’s writers might be unnamed, but they are certainly not unimportant.