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Big Data Co. Applies Analytics To Online Health Care Marketing

A San Diego-based data analytics company has launched a software-as-a-service platform designed to help health care businesses tap into what’s said on social media and use it to advertise directly to consumers looking online for cures to what ails them.

Liquid Grids Inc., a graduate of local tech incubator EvoNexus, has developed a way to process conversations carried on via social media about health issues. As people write on websites like Facebook and Twitter about their medical problems, or those of loved ones, their words and how they say them are analyzed for content and context. And the results can be used to generate targeted online advertising for businesses such as pharmaceutical, medical device, biotech and diagnostics companies.

With its platform, Liquid Grids seeks to grab a slice of a significant health care marketing pie. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, spent more than $27 billion promoting drugs in 2012, according to a report published by Cegedim Strategic Data last year. Of that amount, $3 billion was used to market directly to consumers primarily through television commercials.

But Liquid Grids CEO Malcolm Bohm thinks such traditional media is becoming less effective for advertisers.

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“People don’t listen to ads on the radio or television anymore,” Bohm said. “They change stations and flip the channel. They’re tuned out.”

Social media, he believes, offers greater potential because those using it are already engaged in conversations about topics that matter to them, such as health care.

“People are going to look for information,” Bohm said. “They’re trying to find out what’s wrong, what works, what could help and what has somebody else tried. They’re looking for support from others.”

And they’re looking a lot. According to Pew Research surveys taken in 2014, 73 percent of Internet users use social networking sites and 64 percent of adult users visit Facebook daily.

Identifying Health Care Dialogue

Liquid Grids’ new software service searches for medical keywords and pairs them with information such as a person’s age, disease progression or emotional state as determined through analysis. This differs from traditional data mining in which one piece of information is considered, Bohm said. For example, instead of blasting ads for an arthritis medication to all social media users complaining of joint pain, the audience can be narrowed down, such as to people who mention stiffness and inflammation and are older than 40.

Also, Liquid Grids strives to focus less on instances of brand names or medical jargon appearing in conversations, and more on the way people naturally talk about their illnesses.

“Down South, they might say ‘my blood is running sweet,’ meaning ‘my blood sugar is high,’” Bohm said.

The system, he said, “automatically identifies relevant human health care dialogue and indexes it in a way that allows our users to make buckets of dialogue strategically actionable,” with data relating to a specific illness referred to as a disease grid.

Liquid Grids — named one of Gartner’s “Cool Vendors of 2014” for its use of innovative technology — has offered big data analysis and social media intelligence as a tool for advertising since the startup was founded in 2010, garnering 20 clients to date. Formerly called Swarmology, the company rebranded and responded to advertising clients’ requests by creating new software that gives clients direct access to data through an online portal.

“The new do-it-yourself model offers a whole new set of benefits for clients, leading to cost and time savings,” said Debbie Peternana, president of market research company ReRez and a two-year Liquid Grids client.

Understanding Industry Needs

Bohm spent much of his career working at big pharmaceutical companies, including New York-based Pfizer Inc., where he was part of the team that brought erectile dysfunction drug Viagra to market in 1998. He served in senior positions at Astra and Novartis AG, and in 2005, Bohm launched a U.S. affiliate for biotech company Aspreva Pharmaceuticals. In 2006, he created — and eventually sold — Trialytics, which used public health care data to find patients for clinical trials.

“The fact that the CEO and founder has a background in health care means he understands more about our needs versus just being a guy who figured out a new technology,” Peternana said.

Liquid Grids has been generating revenue for more than a year with about $1 million in 2013 and projected revenue of $3 million this year. The company has received $3.21 million from angel investors and a Series A funding round led by Miramar Digital Ventures and Prairie Ventures.

Brittany Meiling is a freelance journalist in San Diego.

LIQUID GRIDS, INC.

CEO: Malcolm Bohm

Revenue: $1 million in 2013

No. of local employees: 10

Investors: Miramar Digital Ventures and Prairie Ventures

Headquarters: San Diego

Year founded: 2010

Company description: A data analytics company that uses intelligence gathered from social media to provide marketing tools to the health care industry

Key factors for success: Innovative approach to social media profiling directed at a niche market

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