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A window into how healthcare organizations continue to connect key stakeholders at a time of distraction, confusion

For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here.

According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, as of April 2, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have reached more than 1 million worldwide and over 50,000 people have died. As these numbers continue to climb, an increasing number of state and local governments in the United States and around the world have issued stay-at-home orders, restricting the movements of people and preventing them from participating in common, day-to-day activities. Restaurants, bars, non-essential businesses and theaters are closed, social distancing has become a part of our everyday lexicon, grocery store shelves are nearly empty, the stock market is plummeting, and sports have been cancelled at every level.

While the world struggles with how to deal with this global pandemic, organizations find themselves in a tenuous position. Employees are now working from home, which presents challenges to productivity, effectiveness and confidence as they try to juggle their personal lives and professional responsibilities. Customers expect brands to do more in this environment as the government struggles to provide the services and support necessary to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

At the intersection of the growing number of COVID-19 cases and organizations grappling with how to keep employees engaged and customers supported, healthcare marketers and communicators are struggling to protect the reputation of companies they work for. They are grappling with such questions as: What is the policy for a virtual workforce? How will we staff critical functions to better support patients, customers, suppliers, etc.? How will we support organizations involved in producing drugs to treat COVID-19? What will we do for employees with vulnerable family members? What should we be saying to the marketplace that is meaningful? In effect, how can my organization remain relevant during this crisis?

Being relevant had already become challenging as digital channels exploded exponentially over the last 10+ years, the number of audiences they were serving grew at the same rate of speed, there was greater demand to do more with less investment, and competition from all sectors of the market grew. Today, the primary job of protecting reputation has never been more important – or more challenging. How do you stay relevant, though, as investor sentiment drops, your customers are not nearly as engaged as they were two months ago, and your employees are dealing with more than they have ever dealt with before?

That is where the W2O Relevance Framework comes into play. Two weeks ago, we refocused the Relevance Framework to understand how companies are maintaining relevance with key stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysis provided organizations with an early roadmap to assess the situation with an eye toward growing tighter connections with the people who shape their businesses every day. Among the key findings of our analysis were the following:

  • Relevance is About Sensitivity, Empathy and Action. The most relevant companies demonstrated these characteristics in both their communications and decision-making.
  • Relevance Strengthened Organizational Confidence. Employees working in a virtual environment tend to question the value of what they do, given the loss of community and networking. Being relevant with stakeholders improved overall confidence in the organization.
  • Collaboration Emerged as a Key Relevance Driver. Companies that exhibit internal collaboration, work with regulators and policy makers, and partner with philanthropic organizations were viewed more favorably.
  • Timing and Information Make All the Difference. What companies said and shared publicly was backed up by strong action.
  • Stakeholders Must “Discover” Policy, Approach to Trust. Selling an organizational narrative will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.
  • Employee “Value” Must be Reinforced in a Virtual Workplace. Keeping employees informed, interested and connected is critical to reinforcing their value and confidence.

We now have two more weeks of data for our Relevance Framework that shows us how companies’ responses to COVID-19 have evolved. Among the core themes that have emerged are the following:

  • Companies Broadening Their Response to the Pandemic are Maintaining Relevance. One of our early findings was that companies that were maintaining relevance with key stakeholders were doing so by focusing very narrowly on customers and employees. Fast forward two weeks and companies are still focused on those two audiences but have since expanded the circle to include patients and healthcare practitioners, as well.
  • Marketers and Communicators Who Have Helped Their Organizations Keep the Business Context in Mind Have Maintained/Increased Relevancy. COVID-19 has fundamentally disrupted supply chains around the world. The companies that are maintaining relevancy have pivoted their operations to respond and have done a successful job communicating that message to a variety of stakeholders.
  • Partnerships Have Remained a Key Driver of Relevance. This trend has continued and even grown in importance. Whether Facebook’s partnership with 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries, Apple’s partnership with the CDC to update Siri and create a website to help patients diagnose COVID-19 symptoms, or Medtronic’s collaboration with Tesla, we are seeing multiple examples of strong partnerships driving relevance.
  • Focusing on Being a Global Citizen Strongly Impacts Relevance. Two weeks ago, we took note of the many companies making contributions to a variety of different organizations. Now, many of these companies are continuing to donate, and even more additional companies are doing so. These contributions are happening all over the world. Additionally, there is a sense of openness and information sharing with all interested parties that was previously unseen. In order to maintain relevance, companies need to think about their role more broadly than where they are geographically based.

Over the coming weeks, we will be refreshing and sharing our data and insights.

We certainly are living in an unprecedented time where the world seems to be standing still. Moving forward as individuals and organizations is going to take determination, perseverance, information and connection.

Staying relevant amid such a turbulent time is critical, especially once things do return to normalcy.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub, Daniel Steffen, Kate Hawker, Olga Larina and Laura Mucha of W2O.


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The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented public health and economic challenges for global society. However, it also provides opportunities to show that new types of collaboration are not only possible, but that they can be implemented very quickly with the focused allocation of resources and expertise. In these uncertain times, prompt access to information is critical to the safety, efficiency and sustainability of the entire healthcare system. The volume of COVID-19 conversation, especially on Twitter, has exploded since the outbreak began, and it is critical for healthcare leaders to be able to cut through the noise, understand the landscape, and make informed decisions. We believe strongly that W2O has a role to play in meeting this need – by leveraging our technology-enabled analytics platform.

We recently became a sustaining partner in the California Life Sciences Association, the state’s largest and most influential life sciences advocacy and business leadership organization, with W2O Group President and Managing Partner Paulo Simas joining the Board of Directors. We’re proud to share the first collaborative effort to come out of our partnership: a unique platform, powered by W2O analytics, that provides a one-stop source of curated COVID-19 information, enabling anyone to track and share the most relevant content and voices about COVID-19.

This platform, COR, provides several “slices” of information that users can explore. The platform is refreshed every 60 seconds and only analyzes posts that mention the coronavirus. It can be browsed through the following lenses:

Coronavirus – Topline, unfiltered posts from all of Twitter about the coronavirus

California – Posts that either: (a) mention a major city, any county, or the entire state of California; or (b) come from handles operated by California state or local government channels

Life Sciences – Posts that either: (a) mention a life sciences company (not limited to or inclusive of all CLSA members); or (b) come from handles operated by a life sciences company

HCPs – Posts that come from handles operated by healthcare providers (HCPs) (i.e., physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, etc.)

Media – Posts that come from handles operated by major media outlets and personalities with a focus on healthcare

We will launch additional features and lenses to the COR dashboard in the coming weeks, including COVID-19 data and preprints being shared by respected researchers and scientists, as well as communications from global and local health officials. So please look for more announcements as we roll these out.

We invite you to explore this new platform and let us know what you think. We see it as an essential tool that will help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus by enabling easy access to the latest information about the pandemic from reliable sources.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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A window into how healthcare organizations can connect with key stakeholders at a time of distraction, confusion

For a copy of the W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis, click here

The last month has been nothing short of surreal.

A little more than four weeks ago, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was something we witnessed through the lens of our televisions and the internet as citizens across Asia and Europe were struggling to treat patients and manage the spread of a previously unknown virus. Fast forward to today and, in the United States, our entire lives have been upended. Restaurants, bars, stores and theaters are closed, social distancing has become a part of our everyday lexicon, grocery store shelves are nearly empty, the stock market is plummeting, and sports have been cancelled at every level.

We are now restricted to our homes until the rate of the spread of the virus is contained.

While the world struggles with how to deal with this global pandemic, organizations find themselves in a tenuous position. Employees are now working from home, which presents challenges to productivity, effectiveness and confidence as they try to juggle their personal lives with professional responsibilities. Customers expect brands to do more in this environment as the government struggles to provide the services and support necessary to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Given the uncertainty around how far and wide the virus will spread, investors across the United States are looking to turn their investments into cash. Supply chains are being disrupted with fewer employees working in warehouses and normal shipping methods are being disrupted. Customers, concerned about the economy and their livelihoods, are holding onto whatever cash they have.

At the intersection of this new reality, marketers and communicators are struggling to protect the reputation of the companies they work for. What is the policy for a virtual workforce? How will we staff critical functions to better support patients, customers, suppliers, etc. How will we support organizations involved in producing drugs to treat COVID-19?  What will we do for employees with vulnerable family members? What should we be saying to the marketplace that is meaningful?

And so on.

In effect, how can my organization remain relevant in the midst of such a crisis? Being relevant was already challenging with digital channels exploding exponentially over the last 10+ years, the number of audiences they were serving growing at the same rate of speed, greater demand to do more with less investment, and growing competition from all sectors of the market. Even with all that, the primary job of protecting reputation has never been more important – or more challenging. How do you do that, though, while investor sentiment drops, your customers are not nearly as engaged as they were even two months ago, and your employees are dealing with more than they have ever dealt with before?

It is our perspective that, in a social/digital world, companies that are not connecting or engaging with key stakeholders have lost relevance with the people who could shape the brand and move the business. In effect, if you are not relevant, you don’t exist.

The companies that maintain a high level of relevance with their key stakeholders are constantly mindful of closing the gap between what they want to say and what their stakeholders want to hear. Never has that been more critical than during this pandemic.

With that lens in place, we refocused our W2O Relevance Framework, the analytically driven framework that is designed to assess an organization’s and brand’s stakeholder relevance, to address the following:

  • Do we understand our stakeholders in terms of concerns, interests and priorities?
  • Do our employees believe in our premise?
  • Does our positioning resonate with all of our key stakeholders? How?
  • Is the potential value of our business meaningful to media, employees and investors?
  • How relevant are we compared to direct competitors, a few aspirational comparators, and hundreds of other companies?
  • Are people searching for information about our business?
  • Are people engaging with our content online?
  • How are employees rating us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Do people support our CEO?
  • How are financial analysts rating us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are policymakers talking about us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are influencers, buyer segments and the healthcare ecosystem, talking about us and what are they saying and expecting?
  • Are we ahead of the curve on new thinking?

With the novel coronavirus impacting everyone and everything, now is a critical time for corporations to be actively addressing the above questions with swift and decisive action in order to maintain and increase relevance.

COVID-19 Relevance Analysis Insights

The W2O COVID-19 Relevance Analysis provides organizations with a roadmap to assess the current situation with an eye toward growing tighter connections with the people who shape their businesses every day. What does that roadmap look like? What are the elements that have made companies relevant to their stakeholders as they deal with this pandemic?

In looking at healthcare organizations, we learned:

  • Relevance Now is About Sensitivity, Empathy and Action. The most relevant companies demonstrate these characteristics in both their communications and decision-making.
  • Relevance Strengthens Organizational Confidence. Employees working in a virtual environment tend to question value with the loss of community and networking. Being relevant with stakeholders improves overall confidence as an enterprise.
  • Collaboration is Emerging as a Key Relevance Driver. Companies exhibiting internal collaboration, working with regulators and policy makers, and partnering with philanthropic organizations are viewed more favorably in this environment.
  • Timing and Information Makes All the Difference. What companies say and provide publicly is about when and how they do it.
  • Stakeholders Must “Discover” Policy, Approach to Trust. “Selling” an organization’s narrative will be dismissed as rhetoric or worse.
  • Employee “Value” Must be Reinforced in a Virtual Workplace. As cited earlier, employees are working remotely and may feel like they’re in a bubble. Keeping them informed, interested and connected is critical to reinforcing their value and confidence.

Over the coming weeks, we will be refreshing and sharing our data and insights.

We certainly are living in an incredible time where the world seems to be standing still.  Moving forward as individuals and organizations is going to take determination, perseverance, information and connection.

Staying relevant amid such a turbulent time is not just important, it’s critical, especially once things do return to normalcy and they will.

In the meantime, stay safe and healthy!

Contributions to this content were made by Gary Grates, Chuck Hemann, Stephen Yoon, Marianne Gollub and Daniel Steffen of W2O.


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Right now, people everywhere are using social media to cope with isolation (i.e., #stayathome). Overall, the pace of news related to COVID-19 has become so rapid that social media feeds seem the only way to keep up with an ever-evolving reality. As a result, these platforms are so inundated with information, it can be difficult to distinguish misinformation or breakthrough the noise to connect with one another.

Now, more than ever, it is critical for health care leaders to communicate in the most effective ways.

Using MDigitalLife – W2O’s integrated online and offline health care data platform – we zoomed in, filtering more than 124M posts on Twitter related to COVID-19 or coronavirus from January 1 to March 17, 2020 for 330K posts from physicians, advocacy groups, and industry players. We then used our audience map to analyze the specific specialties, geographies, disease areas, and company types who engaged – and, ultimately, tied it all back to the “WHEN,” in an effort to understand the “SO WHAT.”

In a global health crisis that is evolving and advancing at an exponential rate, there is much to learn from the thought leaders and influencers who are engaging in the discussion. Understanding how physicians and advocacy groups are stepping up as leaders in the dialogue; how health care professionals and companies can be more effective in addressing the information and support needs of patient communities; and, what information health care stakeholders need and expect from biopharma and pharmaceutical companies to help them during this time.

Here are nine insights we found from our data:

1. May the real coronavirus expert please stand up? Abundance of expert voices blur out the real-time facts.

Physicians and advocacy groups are using social media to call on their peers, media, and health care leaders to share their perspective on the evolving situation while caveating that they are not coronavirus experts (so that too much stock isn’t placed in an opinion from a non-expert that could quickly become outdated).

One of the first coronavirus tweets (January 2020) from a US physician, a professor of emergency medicine at a major research hospital, said: “Good news is no documented person-to-person spread, and no health care worker cases.”

As another physician put it: “Lots of misinformation about #coronavirus. What can we do? First, if you’re a general #globalhealth person, make it clear to your followers that this doesn’t make you a #coronavirus expert! I’ll start. I don’t know much about this disease.”

2. Infectious disease and emergency medicine experts are not the only one’s engaging – from cardiologists to oncologists, pediatricians and dermatologists – specialists are working to understand the impact.

There are three common questions that the health care community is asking – and certain specialties are more engaged because questions 1 and 2 are especially relevant to their patients.

    • Q1: How do we deliver treatments, with a reduced workforce, through the increased use of virtual visits and by postponing elective procedures?
    • Q2: What risks to our patients can we mitigate by reducing clinic visits? How do we manage the increased risk for severe illness for patients with kidney disease, cancer, as well as immunosuppressed patients?
    • Q3: Should we delay or change certain treatments? How should this be informed based on safety and toxicity data?

In the last 72 hours, conversation has started to emerge around a fourth question: How do we treat a patient with confirmed COVID-19?

3. Community physicians are serving a critical role in effectively sharing hyper-local information.

Initial conversations were focused in “first case” cities or cities with a large research hospital or center of excellence. However, as more communities are affected by outbreaks, physicians are participating at higher levels, primarily focused on overcapacity issues that already exist within their local health systems. These community doctors are also sharing expert perspectives on the response to the crisis from mayors and governors.

4. The health care community is seeking a more open source and transparent flow of information, which continues to increase as we learn more.

In late January, physicians started using social media to demand free access to research related to coronavirus. Journals responded. Seventy organizations and medical journals including New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet made all content free.

“An important thread: access to the latest and best scientific data needs to be open access during an epidemic outbreak such as #nCoV2019 or #Ebola. May warrant alternative ways of $ rewarding them, but in short run, priority needs to be on protecting human life.”

“I see some extremely important #nCov2019 research studies are behind firewalls at scientific journals. Just tried, e.g., to pull one off a Wiley journal today, Elsevier yesterday. IT IS IMMORAL in an epidemic to hide science behind paywalls. Period.”

5. Advocacy groups have been cautious to engage to-date, and although certain disease areas fall outside of the norm, most advocacy organizations have acted as amplifiers of content from public health institutions.

Sixty-two percent of advocacy posts on twitter are retweets, the majority of which are shares of content from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This may change in response to evolving needs for patient communities in the coming weeks. Notably, over the past week, there has been a shift among advocacy groups whose constituents are most at risk, with many creating or consolidating “verified” content and materials with guidelines for non-symptomatic patients on COVID-19. 

6. It’s important not to dilute the conversation with unnecessary or unhelpful comparisons.

Health care leaders may have done more harm than good by using COVID-19 as an opportunity to address anti-vaxxers and make comparisons to the flu in the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Recently physicians have hypothesized: “Please stop comparing #2019nCoV with influenza. Not equivalent – at all. You might as well remind people to stop smoking to save more lives than the coronavirus will take.”

7. Online conversation among industry analysts and investors is still very much in the moment versus thinking about longer-term impact.

To date, the online discussion has been largely focused on pharmaceutical companies and the status or starting of coronavirus vaccine clinical trials. Companies with the most mentions related to coronavirus are (in descending order): Gilead, Moderna, J&J, Sanofi, and Regeneron. There will be more information forthcoming on how the largest health care brands are maintaining relevancy with key stakeholders in an upcoming report scheduled to be released tomorrow.

8. Physicians and advocacy groups are increasingly engaging in a politicized dialogue, and many health care leaders worry about the impact on the scientific dialogue around pandemics.

Continuing to track this dialogue will be critical for health care leaders to understand how to add value to these conversations. For example, discussion around potential economic impact and health care access is likely to drive increased focus on patient access programs.

“There is also a growing partisan divide over how Americans interpret scientific expertise and health policy, leaving decisions about public health vulnerable to the kind of partisan squabbling you hear on cable news every night.”

“As #coronavirus spreads, political support is key but politicization of scientific decisions is dangerous. In @CFR_org @ThinkGlobalHlth I outline past inspiring collaboration and potential for unity against humanity’s common enemy: dangerous microbes.”

9. This is a moment to be inclusive as a health care community.

In response to gratitude expressed toward health care professionals, many physicians and advocacy groups aim to highlight the broader community of health care workers, such as janitors, hospital employees, and everyone who continues to work to address this disease every day.

This report was powered by W2O Analytics & Insights Team. Authors: Meredith Owen, Kelly Moulds, Garrett Bond, Daniel Steffen + the W2O Coronavirus Core Team.

(Note: This report focuses on US-insights. W2O will be sharing regional insights on the online conversation globally throughout March in April.)


W2O’s additional COVID-19 coverage

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages

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Real-world data (RWD), or clinical data derived outside of traditional clinical trials, and resulting real-world evidence (RWE) are increasingly being used to drive innovation across the healthcare industry. The impact of this data is being seen in everything from clinical development to regulatory decision-making to pricing and access to healthcare delivery. The excitement surrounding RWD is equally palpable and seen everywhere from scientific conferences to Silicon Valley’s VCs’ conference rooms. This trend looks to have a long trajectory as well, especially given the FDA’s recent focus on creating standards for and encouraging the use of RWE for regulatory decision-making (see here), and the proliferation of new technology platforms, such as Aetion and Roam Analytics, that make RWD more accessible to various industry professionals.

W2O recently entered into a licensing agreement for full access to medical claims, pharmacy claims and electronic health record data for over 300 million (anonymous) patients in the U.S. Because we take data privacy seriously, it’s important to note that this licensed data is completely de-identified and fully compliant with HIPAA privacy and security rules. When we combine claims and EHR data with other forms of non-traditional RWD that we use, such as social media data, mobile data and search/web data, we find incredible high-resolution views into the clinical landscape. This helps us and our clients better understand why what we see in the lab or in controlled experiments doesn’t always match reality in the real world (big reveal: not all patients and providers make optimal decisions based on the literature, and they are as susceptible to cognitive biases as you would see in any other industry). More importantly, this 360-degree view of the patient population and their care providers gives us much clearer direction on how we, as an agency, can help our clients improve clinical decision-making, patient access and health outcomes.

The commercial applications for RWD and RWE are more established than those for clinical development and regulatory decision-making, and some might even find it surprising that a marketing and communications agency, such as W2O, would use this data across its clients’ commercial activities. But, as former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has repeatedly discussed, RWD provides a crucial missing link between clinical trials and clinical care. By bridging that gap, we’re quickly modernizing how new therapies are brought to market. Specifically, we can now create models of the provider and patient populations that will most benefit from new therapies and procedures using RWD, rooted in clinical trial results, that is far more accurate and actionable than traditional market research could ever be. The fact that commercial, medical and scientific teams can all speak the same data language now is a sea change for medical marketers and communicators, who have just been propelled from a 20th century world of surveys and qualitative interviews to one that looks much more like consumer technology companies, which are successfully using the same first-party data for everything from product development to digital advertising.

We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of how RWD is useful across a broad range of medical and commercial activities. Following are a few ways we and our clients are using RWD today:

  • Clinical trial design: Identifying patient markers in RWD that predict clinical response and adherence, and selecting appropriate outcome measures
  • Clinical trial recruitment: Identifying eligible patient populations, particularly for rare diseases, more quickly so clinical trials are more cost-effective and new therapies can be brought to market more quickly
  • Market intelligence: Understanding gaps between clinical trial efficacy and actual real-world effectiveness for long-existing therapies, including why patients don’t respond to therapies as expected and other issues that affect broad adoption or adherence
  • Audience segmentation: Identifying groups of providers and patients that are high priorities from a communications and education perspective, given their clinical practices, social determinants and unique patient journeys
  • Media planning: Using machine learning to predict clinical practices and preferences given providers’ medical education preferences and media consumption habits
  • Pricing and access: Demonstrating the value and cost of new therapies and indications  to the healthcare system
  • Campaign optimization: Continuously testing whether our pre-launch and post-launch marketing activities are having a positive impact on clinical practices and patient outcomes

Again, we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of RWD applications for communications and marketing. But, even in these early days, it’s clear that we’re quickly advancing from a data dark-age in pharma marketing to one where we’re able to bring innovative new therapies to the market faster and more effectively.


If you’re interested in learning about W2O, check out our About and Analytics pages.

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