Lean on ‘We’: could social media drive behaviour change in type 2 diabetes?

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By todaybreakingnews.org

Highlighting the huge opportunities for marketers and HCPs to maximise social media to raise awareness and signpost T2D patients to safe places for life-changing support

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The power of social media is under-leveraged in the treatment of type 2 diabetes (T2D) where it could play a big role in driving behaviour change.

Similar to the landmark study that showed a 64% reduction in blood pressure after barbers promoted follow-up with healthcare professionals (HCPs), new research shows that community support from people with shared experiences has a positive impact on patients’ ability to comply with the measures required to manage T2D effectively. As such, there are huge opportunities for marketers and HCPs to maximise social media to nurture communities, raise awareness and signpost T2D patients to safe places for life-changing support.

The desensitizing of type 2 diabetes
First, let’s set some context. In 2014, a UK doctor controversially claimed he ‘would rather have HIV than diabetes’. His comment – three decades after the AIDS epidemic – leant on statistics showing that, in 2012, fewer than 1% of people with HIV died. It stunned the world. Nine years later, his argument merits further discussion. Today, one in three Americans will develop T2D in their lifetimes and it will impact all of us. HCPs are concerned, yet as a society, we seem desensitized and resigned to the looming consequences of this next epidemic.

T2D is debilitating to health and equally debilitating to the nation’s economic health. Diabetes care accounts for $1 out of every $4 in US healthcare spend, totaling $325bn a year and growing. With policymakers, payers and HCPs all grappling these escalating costs, the Research Studio at VMLY&R conducted quantitative research to better understand T2D behaviours with a view to helping unusual, disruptive insights that can ultimately improve compliance. Our research uncovered new insights that could transition T2D trends from resignation to redemption.

Practical support
Of the diabetic patients surveyed, 87% rely on their primary care providers (PCPs) for practical advice. Yet only a third receive motivational, mental or emotional support, leaving a massive hole to be filled for successful management of the disease. According to our research, women especially find it difficult to confide in medical professionals about their T2D, raising further alarms about how they might receive the practical support necessary to manage their health.

Empty emotional support
T2D – sometimes called the ‘blame and shame’ disease – remains deeply stigmatised. Many T2D patients are discriminated against, afraid to disclose their condition or experience psychological distress.

Of patients in our study, 84% receive emotional support from their friends and family, with most saying they can talk openly about their healthcare in general and that family influences how they look after their health. But over a quarter feel judged when they talk to friends and family about their diabetes. Nearly a third say it’s difficult to follow their diet when surrounded by family, creating additional challenges in their management of diabetes.

Saving lives through social media
These days, we think of social media as a destructive force that wreaks havoc on our mental health, our productivity and our relationships with others. But it can also be a catalyst for change. Our research indicates that social media may positively impact health outcomes and reported compliance. Increasingly, patients are turning to social media for emotional support from T2D communities that supplements support from friends and family. Men and women prefer to talk about T2D with others who have the same condition, with social media enabling these shared experiences. Our findings suggest this is particularly important for black and Hispanic patients, who often experience disparities in healthcare. Our research also showed social media involvement has the power to change behaviour. Those who engage in T2D social media groups report following their medication, diet and exercise routines more closely than those who don’t. With seven in ten Americans using social media, these findings offer hope for the future of diabetes management.

New intervention for the next generation?
Currently, nearly one in five adolescents (12-18 years) and one in four young adults (19-34 years) have prediabetes. With up to half of millennials not having a primary care doctor – a trend that’s expected to continue for Gen Z – and most adolescent annual checkups including no health counselling, the T2D crisis could worsen. To prevent it, communications must meet these next-gen audiences where they hang out.

Today, 97% of adolescents use the internet daily and are already living their lives online – 46% ‘almost constantly’. As such, social media interventions are an effective way to give millennials and Gen Z the T2D support they need. If marketers can maximise social channels, we could turn the tide for the next generation.

Our research shows the power of social media to impact outcomes is severely under-leveraged in the treatment of T2D and may play an essential role in overcoming resignation to this pervasive condition. While many brands would love to own the experiences where their customers engage, we must remember that organically developed community support systems already exist and have community trust. These communities typically get their power from the contributors and moderators, even if they’re centred around a specific brand. Therefore, brands must find ways to engage with these safe spaces without intruding on them. Marketers can demonstrate their commitment to improving T2D outcomes by learning from these communities and leveraging insights to provide better support.

These honest conversations provide invaluable sources for marketers to gain deeper insights into the real experiences people are having; the triggers and barriers in their treatment journey, the real-world language they’re using to describe their experiences and the kinds of information they don’t have enough of. These learnings can help develop interactions that add to the consumer experience instead of duplicating efforts, providing unnecessary content, or communicating in ways that are inauthentic. By finding the right ways to engage these communities, brands have a unique opportunity to craft meaningful, lasting relationships with T2D patients that could ultimately save lives.

Jessica Kukreti is a managing director in the Research Studio at VMLY&R

30th August 2023

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