The Information Prescription Part Four: The Right Site for the Right Person


Photograph by Patrick Doyle, Canadian Press

In just the same way that medication and a treatment regimen need to take into account a range of factors, so does the choice of social media sites and approaches. The internet has been rightly criticized as providing a lot of misinformation and even dangerous information. Those are good reasons to be cautious. They also are a compelling call to action to providers to assist their patients in becoming discerning consumers and participants. For clinicians, that means understanding what’s on offer.

Part of the key to finding the right online connections is locating places that meet a person’s social and informational needs while helping them understand how to safeguard their online privacy. One size won’t fit all. People have different levels of trust and comfort in participating online. They learn differently. They socialize differently. The good news is that there are a variety of social media sites aimed at people with chronic conditions.

Understanding the Social Media User

It’s important to not think narrowly about who might benefit from social media interactions; the use of social media is widespread. Brenner (2012) found that two-thirds of people in the United States with internet access also used social media.

 We expect younger people to be online, but one in three patients over 65 with a chronic disease is likely to be familiar with and using social media. That’s a sizable portion of any cohort, but it stretches to a high of 86% for people ages 18-29 with a chronic disease. Brenner (2012) reports that in the U.S., one in four people with chronic illnesses use the Internet to find people with similar conditions, or what is called peer-to-peer health.

 Rozen, Askalani and Senn (2012) at the marketing firm Aimia, have developed a social segmentation model that provides some insights into U.S. social media types. While based on the United States market, it likely has some utility for the Canadian marketplace; Canadians are as or more likely to use the internet, as discussed in part one of this series.

Rozen et al. (2012) describe six categories of users:

  • No shows (41%) – likely men over 65 who haven’t been on a social network in the last thirty days, have low levels of trust and no interest in letting others know what they’re doing.
  • Newcomers (15%) –passive users of a single site, usually Facebook.
  • Onlookers (16%) – sometimes called lurkers, they keep up to date on what others do but don’t like to share personal information.
  • Cliquers (6%) – active single network users who are usually on Facebook, are generally female, and are active within their small network of close friends and family.
  • Mix-n-Minglers (19%) – actively participate on multiple platforms and are likely to follow brands, understand the importance of privacy and are influential users amongst their friends.
  • Sparks (3%) – are the most engaged users. They use social media to express their views and act as ambassadors for their favorite products and sites.

Zinc Research (2010) provided a similar segmentation for the Canadian market. Zinc broke out the market as follows:

  • Heavy users (Online/Real time): 6% of users
  • Casual users (“Samplers & Lurkers”): 29%
  • Business users (“Suits & Strategy”): 5%
  • Socializers (“3Cs – Chat, Chill and Connect”): 14%
  • Friend & family circles (Facebook Friends): 24%”

Rozen et al. (2012) base their segmentation on an analysis that posits that the two main emotional drivers for social media use are control over personal information and trust.

  • The desire for control over one’s personal information tends to correlate with a willingness to participate on social media. The more control people feel they have over what they do on social media, the more likely they are to engage online.
  • Trust is the level to which people feel their personal information is safe and that their networks are supportive. The more trust they have in the sites they use and their networks, the more willing they are to share (p. 6).

This has important implications for the information prescription. Educating users on how to safeguard themselves online and engage appropriately should make it more likely that people who could benefit from the use of social media will do so. As well, by researching sites and then recommending them to patients with chronic disease, the more likely people are to trust the sites and use them to their advantage.

As discussed in part one of this series, Canadians over 55 are the fastest growing segment of online users. And the person with the diagnosis isn’t necessarily the only beneficiary. As discussed in the second post in this series, when one person in a household is diagnosed with a chronic disease, the whole family lives with the diagnosis (Diabetic Connect, n.d.). So even if the person with the diagnosis doesn’t want to access social media, someone else in their family may be interested and can become a source of information for the person with the disease. As well, the family member may find support and understanding regarding his or her own struggle living with someone with a chronic disease. For example, parents of children with diabetes are active on many sites and some are very active bloggers.

Like any other cohort, people with a chronic disease cohort will fall somewhere along a social media continuum that goes from non-user through lurker to participant. More people are using social media all the time and by understanding and recommending good sites and applications – making the information prescription – health care providers can help people feel comfortable with their social media use. AFter all, they are the number one information source for almost all patients with a chronic disease – 93% in the United States (Fox & Purcell, 2010).

In my next post, I explore what’s on offer online.


 Brenner, J. (2012, September 17).Pew Internet: Social Networking (full detail). Accessed October 26, 2012 at

Fox, S., & Purcell, K. (2010). Chronic Disease and the Internet. Accessed at

Rozen, Askalani and Senn (2012). Staring at the sun. Identifying, understanding and influencing social media users. Aimia. Accessed October 30, 2012 at

Zinc Research. (2010). ZINC Research releases Canadian social media segmentation research findings. Accessed October 30, 2012 at


One Response to “The Information Prescription Part Four: The Right Site for the Right Person”

  1. 1 The Information Prescription Part Six: Weighing the Options « judithdyck

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