Friday, May 9, 2008

The future of tying health into social networks

I just finished reading a report compiled by the California Health Foundation titled The Wisdom of Patients: Health Care Meets Online Social Media and it got me thinking about the future of tying health into social networks.

The United States is aging, rapidly. The country’s largest demographic segment, the boomers are beginning to enter their 60s. In 2003 12% of the US population was aged 65+, in 2030 that number increases to 20% (a jump from 35.9 million people to 72 million people). 80% of this age cohort has at least one chronic condition while 50% have at least two. Couple this with Hitwise’s recent report that shows share of traffic to social networking & forum sites by those aged 55+ has increased from 6% in 2006 to 11% in 2008 and you’re (or at least I) thinking that taking a closer look at tying in targeted health content with social networking could be lucrative., a social networking site for boomers claims the #4 spot in Time Spent on Social Networks by US Internet Users (again brought to us by Hitwise). That tells us the largest demographic population is spending a lot of time engaging in social networks. The challenge is to encourage more boomers to participate in the space. But to some degree we’ll be able to rely on the technology adoption curve to boost the numbers.

There are already some early players, Diabetesmine, Wego Health, and Patientslikeme to name a few (read more about them in The Wisdom of Patients), but there’s certainly room in the Long Tail for more players.

If you’re interested in pursuing this space I would suggest defining a target audience (ex., women boomers who are single, have professional careers and are 10 years from retirement) and researching what the most common chronic disease is among that target. Be careful to define a niche that’s large enough where only a small percentage of people will need to engage with your site to make it meaningful, but large enough that the community grows organically over time and becomes a vibrant on-line community. You may want to define a niche that is not currently being spoken to or one that isn’t being spoken to well. Engage with individuals that make up your niche and build a relationship so that your final end product (and it can morph along the way) becomes community minded and community built. These are just some recommendations; you’re likely to have more. Add them to the comments and help to define a better working list.

image credit: Social Network Mangement System by Aristocrat on Flickr

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