When it comes to social networks, we’re all familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and the list goes on and on. These general social networks are places where we can connect with anyone, anywhere, and about pretty much anything. But did you know there are industry-specific social networks? Previously, I had only really thought about LinkedIn as a professional social network, but there are social networks targeted toward specific industries everywhere. One of these networks is Sermo.
Sermo is a social network, founded in 2005, for physicians licensed in the U.S. In fact, it’s the largest physician-only social network, with approximately 200,000 users and counting, covering 68 medical specialities. The site was created by Daniel Palestrant, M.D., after he saw a need for physicians to connect in new ways in this ever-changing healthcare world. In 2012, WorldOne, a New York-based healthcare data firm, bought the social network for an undisclosed amount.
Sermo states that users spend up to 40,000 hours a month on the site, staying connected to other physicians and gaining knowledge about what’s happening when it comes to medical treatments and advancements, as well as, hot button topics, such as healthcare reform.
Peer-to- Peer Relationships
It’s a platform for physicians to connect with other physicians across the country, engage in peer-to-peer dialogue, ask questions, create and take part in polls, and even have access to “on-call” physicians who are standing by to answer questions that may have some urgency connected to them.
Sermo also has an iPhone app, where physicians can have access to the social network and its resources at their fingertips. With the iConsult feature, physicians can share photos, lab and imaging results, EKGs, and more, with other physicians right from a patient’s bedside.
Users have access to daily news articles across specialty areas from leading peer-reviewed medical journals and conferences.
Physicians can provide candid feedback on a range of topics during private and moderated discussions. Most focus groups are held over an extended period of time, so physicians have the convenience of participating on their own schedules.
Physicians can post their own poll questions or participate in others’. Polls usually deal with timely trends or ongoing topics.
How Does Sermo Make a Profit?
There are no ads on Sermo. The company makes money by allowing industry companies (pharmaceutical, medical research, etc.) to listen in and watch what is being said by its members. Physicians can choose to be as public or anonymous in their profiles and what they post.
Physicians can also get a cut of the profits. Doctors who ask or answer a question that paying observers deem especially valuable can receive $5 to $25 per post. Palestrant admits, only about 1 percent of posts have such payments associated with them and doctors don’t know whether they’re getting paid until the discussion triggered by their question is closed. My guess is that most users aren’t signing and up and participating because they may get reimbursed.
I’m not a physician, but I work in the healthcare industry and that’s why I was drawn to this industry-specific social network. Overall, I think it’s a cool platform for physicians to easily collaborate, learn about new medical information, and ask questions. But I do have some concerns about it. How secure is the network? If a physician posts a picture of a patient, hopefully they can’t actually be identified. In healthcare, there’s this thing called HIPAA and it’s a big deal. I’m sure no physician wants to comprise their patient’s privacy, but posting on a social network does seem risky, especially if industry companies (who are not all physicians) are “listening in.” On the flip side, if a physician has an important question answered or learns something new by being a member, maybe patient care can be enhanced.
Despite having more than 200,000 users, Sermo’s audience and reach is pretty limited, especially since it’s only for physicians in the U.S. currently. This limited audience makes sense when you think about the differences in the way healthcare is delivered worldwide, but I think it’ll ultimately limited the network’s reach and status among other social networks.
Sermo could have some potential for proximity marketing (also commonly known as location-based advertising) in some sense. While Sermo doesn’t have advertisers, it could focus things like the daily news feed and poll questions toward a certain region or speciality. This might help physicians learn about what others in their area are doing when it comes to delivering healthcare. I do think many probably benefit from learning from others all over the country, but maybe there could be ways to target “regional” information versus “national.”
Sermo currently does pretty well with integrated marketing communications (IMC). Despite being an industry-specific social network, it takes advantage of other platforms, including YouTube and Twitter. The site also hosts a blog which includes timely topics and topics all physicians should consider. Even though I’m not a physician, most of the posts I read were interesting. There’s also a section for “Sermo Stories” about how the network has helped real physicians. This type of testimonial section, helps Sermo tell it’s own story, which is an important part of any marketing mix.
Overall, I find Sermo interesting and I see it’s purpose in the healthcare industry. I asked a few physicians who I work with if they use it. All said no, but would be interested in learning more. So, while Sermo’s audience may be limited, it looks like there’s room for growth and that’s a positive aspect of any social network.
Arnold, M. (2012, July 19). WorldOne snaps up Sermo [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.mmm-online.com/worldone-snaps-up-sermo/article/250973/
Hammer, S. (2007, June 19). Cashing in on doctors’ thinking. Business 2.0. Retrieved fromhttp://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2007/06/01/100050979/
Huang, G. (2013, April 3). WorldOne getting $35M to expand Sermo physician network [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2013/04/03/worldone-getting-35m-to-expand-sermo/