LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- When Jeff Arnold started WebMD 10 years ago, he helped create a consumer-generated web 1.0 platform for saving time and money through self-diagnosis of health symptoms. Notably missing from the site's early days, however, was a celebrity doctor to create buzz, an integrated ad model or a search engine-optimization strategy. That's why Mr. Arnold's latest health-media venture, Sharecare, has all those things and more.
Sharecare, which resembles more of a web 3.0 version of WebMD, will launch in early first quarter 2010. Mr. Arnold and his team hope to replicate or surpass their efforts with WebMD, which attracts upwards of 20 million unique visitors every month.
The site is already in soft launch, through a partnership and partial investment from Sony Pictures Television and Harpo Productions, which have enlisted new day-time host Dr. Mehmet Oz to be one of the site's marquee physicians. Dr. Oz has already promoted the Sharecare platform on-air, getting viewers to ask health-related questions on his website, where over 115,000 have already been asked in the show's 2-month lifespan. Other content partners and partial investors include Discovery Communications, which acquired Mr. Arnold's How Stuff Works in 2007 for $250 million and will provide video content for the site's different sections by opening up the archive of Discovery Health's library.
With so many cooks in Sharecare's kitchen, Mr. Arnold is cognizant of the site's ultimate goal -- to involve the medical institutions who provide and treat consumers who log on to health care sites each day. "The Cleveland Clinic says, 'I need to push my knowledge out there so I can share it with consumers all over the world,'" said Mr. Arnold, who is now chairman-chief architect of Sharecare and Discovery/How Stuff Works' chief of global digital strategy. "I've constantly heard from doctors, 'My web site stinks, I spend too much time reading pages on Yelp following my ratings. I think this is a better presentation of my practice to allow patients to highlight things on their page representative of my practice.' So we want to optimize on their behalf."
To that end, Sharecare will launch with several content partnerships with major medical institutions, including The Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, each of which will enlist physicians to personally answer consumer-generated questions. Similarly, several publishing houses will contribute content from their own medical titles, making chapters about specific topics available on an a la carte/-iTunes-esque basis, for a small fee. Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Harmony Books have all signed on for their own e-commerce widgets to promote the books of their authors, including Dr. Roizen, Dr. Oz, Dr. Dean Ornish and Deepak Chopra.
Sharecare's functionality is Facebook-meets-WebMD, where users can ask a question or select a topic like skincare or heart disease and find a list of relevant doctors, books and occasionally advertisers, or "Knowledge Partners," who will provide archived and real-time advice they can "follow" on their personalized pages as they would on Facebook or Twitter.
Dove, Sharecare's exclusive launch sponsor, has already enlisted its own in-house skincare experts to answer hundreds of questions generated on doctoroz.com, each response identified as a sponsored post much in the same way as an ad-supported Facebook News Feed update.
How Stuff Works was acquired by Discovery in part to tap into the same potential for an ad model that could incorporate paid and organic search, dynamic banner ads and other content-based sponsorships for brands to own the information around their own category. Toyota, for example, recently renewed a multiplatform ad buy on the site valued at more than $5 million, according to two executives familiar with the deal.
Mr. Arnold said Dove was an ideal launch sponsor for Sharecare in part because a package-goods company like Unilever doesn't have to adhere to the same complicated FDA-required transparency issues that come with pharmaceutical companies, which Sharecare will nonetheless target when it goes to market with its first upfront in December.
"We said to Unilever, 'If you want to own skincare, instead of you giving us a 30-second ad, we want you to give us the scientific answer behind these questions because you've been doing this for 51 years,'" he said. So far, Dove has received 3,000 questions through DrOz.com and provided 200 answers a week.
Kathy O'Brien, Dove's marketing director, called the Sharecare sponsorship "a natural extension that builds on our equity as a leader in skincare research and technology. Because of this, we feel Dove is adding additional credibility to the Sharecare platform and enhancing users' experiences on the site."