The Influencers Who Shall Remain Nameless

Posted by: in Communication Strategy, Medical Communications on November 3, 2011

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.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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2 Responses

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  1. Pierre-Loic Assayag said

    Hey Brian, great conversation to start. I’m with the Traackr team.

    To be clear, we are definitely not saying that content sites are not important and in many ways someone’s influence on a topic has much to do with his or her affiliation with an online publication.

    When we first started Traackr a few years back, we were betting on a trend that most publications would share authorship information of their content. The trend has very much been validated and, though there are still some publications we can’t track because this info is not available (NIH site you cite would be one, The Economist would be another), most online content can now be associated to a person.

    Looking at content sites through the lens of their authors gives us a much more accurate and granular view of the publication itself and enables us to track authors across all of their online channels.

    It also the information we share much more actionable: who I should talk to at WSJ about topic xx.

    I’m confident that the trend to raise transparency of authorship will continue. Google’s launch of author rank will help some I’m sure.

  2. Thanks so much for the comment. In general, I agree with you: for a number of reasons (the rise of the freelancer, the weakening of the beat system in depleted newsrooms, the growth of social networks, the ease of self-publishing), the power of authorship is going to grow. And — as you note — the Google Plus/Google News integration is proof.

    But the rush to quantify social means has meant, in general, that “static” sources of information (as opposed to more “social” sources) are going to get ignored. In a lot of areas, such as technology or politics, this isn’t going to make much difference, because people aren’t looking to references for information in those areas. But health is fundamentally different. The comScore results show the tremendous allure of authoritative sites that neither promote authorship nor have any reason to push in that direction. So any assessment of health influencers (and — in all fairness — I haven’t seen TRAACKR’s work in the health area) is going to have a huge blind spot.

    If that blind spot is acknowledged and a strategy is executed to deal with that gap, you have have great results. But pretending like NIH.gov (or The Economist) doesn’t exist can be, at best, misleading.

    I’m reminded of the old cereal caveat: that a bowl of your favorite is only a part of a well-balanced diet. Unfortunately, the need for the rest of breakfast is, increasingly, not getting the attention it probably needs.

    — Brian

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