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What’s Spookier Than Misinformation in Healthcare Marketing? Doing Nothing When It Spreads.

It’s a tale as old as time (in the digital age): You wake up with a scratchy throat and a slight headache. At first, you ignore it—maybe it was those extra few minutes (okay, hours) of TikTok scrolling or the fact that your dog woke you up at 3:00am to go outside. Best to ignore those symptoms and get on with your day…right?

But they persist as the day progresses. You start to overthink. Likely a cold, maybe allergies—or were you exposed to anyone with COVID? You initially resist the urge to turn to the internet for guidance, but eventually give in.

You type your symptoms into a search engine and are met with varying results. From websites claiming your symptoms indicate a problem far more extreme than what you’d imagined, to home remedies, to ads for at-home COVID tests, you’re bombarded with information. Amidst this overload, you find yourself wondering: What is true? And what can I trust?

Today, we’re exploring the issue of digital misinformation, why healthcare marketers should care, and what they can do to protect themselves from its implications.

Combatting Misinformation: A Necessity in Today’s Digital Landscape

In an increasingly digital world, more and more people are turning to the internet to meet their healthcare needs. Whether they’re trying to find information about specific symptoms, researching available treatments for a new diagnosis, exploring options for healthcare providers, or reading up on how to live a healthier lifestyle, the internet has become a crucial part of how people take care of themselves.

This is all well and good, except that misinformation is rampant. Oh, and very personal healthcare choices? They’ve become highly politicized, and the information you get is totally dependent on the source.

Now, more than ever, consumers need to be able to trust the information they’re getting online when it comes to healthcare. And healthcare brands that are trying to build relationships with consumers need to be especially mindful of where their ads are displayed, what comments are generated on their social media posts, and other brand safety measures. How can you expect a consumer to trust you with their health and wellbeing when they just saw an ad for your brand on a website peddling misinformation? Or if a Facebook ad for your product is riddled with misleading comments?

In this age of misinformation, healthcare marketers need to be proactive and intentional to protect their brand, avoid controversy, and advertise ethically.

But First…Why Should Healthcare Marketers Care?

This might be obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway: All advertisers have a responsibility to advertise ethically. Misinformation has negative impacts on internet users, and advertising dollars spent on sites that peddle misinformation support that. In addition, consumers are concerned by the spread of misinformation: A 2021 study showed that more than 70 percent of US consumers consider it a big problem. 

In a new McKinsey Health Institute survey, approximately 85 percent of total respondents rated mental and physical health as “very important” or “extremely important” to them. Health is a huge factor in determining happiness and overall quality of life, and people need reliable information to inform how they take care of themselves. So for healthcare marketers, misinformation is especially problematic.

When misinformation spreads about health-related topics, it’s both unethical and dangerous. Besides the moral implications of advertising alongside it, healthcare brands risk their reputations and consumer loyalty when their ads are shown in the context of mis- and dis-information.

For healthcare marketers, then, combatting misinformation should be a priority. But what should that look like? Let’s dive in.   

What Healthcare Marketers Can Do to Identify and Address Misinformation

1. Be proactive  

Let’s start at the very beginning (we heard somewhere that it’s a “very good place to start”). Healthcare marketers can avoid the controversy of advertising alongside misinformation by crafting a strong brand safety plan. These plans might include:

  • A blocklist of sites that are known to house questionable or misleading content
  • OR an allowlist of sites—which means your ads are served only on sites you have deemed safe
  • Topic exclusions that enable your brand to avoid highly politicized or controversial themes
  • Sensitive subject exclusions to ensure your ad isn’t displayed alongside upsetting subjects
  • Content exclusions for channels that might be too difficult to effectively monitor
  • Strategic partnerships: NOBL, for example, allows brands to align their values with their programmatic media buys, target high-quality content, and avoid funding misinformation

2. Monitor consistently

Advertisers know their job isn’t finished when a campaign goes live. In healthcare marketing, this is especially true. The most effective campaigns are those that are closely monitored and optimized based on data and trends.

This monitoring for misinformation might look different based on the channel(s) you’re advertising on. For programmatic media buys, given the vastness of inventory available and the speed at which these buys occur, it’s important to have a plan to pay attention to where your ads are being placed and the content they’re running alongside. For social media, monitoring likely includes looking through posts, comments, and other activity to ensure your page or post isn’t a host for unclear, untrue, or misleading information.

Though it might feel overwhelming to plan for this degree of monitoring, the alternative is far worse. Healthcare marketers cannot afford to lose audience trust, damage their brand’s reputation, miss out on revenue, or contribute to the toxic and potentially dangerous spread of misinformation related to peoples’ health.

So what can marketers do when they identify instances of misinformation? That leads us to our last tip…

3. Remain agile

Marketers can’t make strategic adjustments if they aren’t agile.  

What this agility might look like, however, will vary depending on the situation. If you realize your ads are running alongside misinformation via programmatic buys, it might involve updating blocklists or allowlists, adjusting creative, and removing assets from sites. For social media, it could include deleting comments, actively addressing misinformation, or even removing posts, in certain situations.

Whatever the case, it’s critical that healthcare marketers have the flexibility to respond when these instances occur. Ignoring them or turning a blind eye could prove harmful for your brand, and for your potential consumers.

That said, it can be a challenge to stay quick on your feet in today’s fragmented and complex media landscape. One solution that can enable agility is advertising automation technology. In particular, tools like workflow automation software can streamline the media buying process, freeing up the time healthcare marketers need to make adjustments on the fly.

Wrapping Up: Stay in the Know, So You Can Fight Misinformation and Build Trust with Consumers

All advertisers want to build connection with consumers. For healthcare marketers, trusting and meaningful relationships are especially critical. One way healthcare marketers can ensure they’re building this trust is by proactively addressing misinformation when it arises (and, even better, having consistent systems in place to do so!) Through this, they can prioritize relationships with their consumers, build brand trust and loyalty, and help to foster a safer digital environment.

The developing issue of misinformation is just one example of why advertisers need to be up to date on what’s happening in digital advertising. But researching and finding what’s most important can take time and resources that not everyone has.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Each month, we put together Basis Scout, a digest of top digital content and news. It’s a great way to stay up to date on misinformation and other evolving topics in the world of digital advertising.

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