Medical Affairs & Social Media: A Brave New World
A great majority of healthcare providers now use social media platforms. Medical Affairs teams need to amplify their voice on social media channels – or lose out.
Is your company behind the curve on using social media because no one has the skills or managers think they’re fine without it? This is a big mistake given surging social media use by health care providers (HCP) since the pandemic began.
Today, 81% of HCPs use social media as a trusted channel for scientific exchange. Medical Affairs teams who don’t get on board with social media are missing an effective strategy for forging relationships, providing information, and engaging customers, says Gregory Imber, chief engagement officer for the Healthcare Consultancy Group.
“We live at the intersection of science and the customer experience. [Pharma companies] can’t have their heads in the sand,” Imber continues. “The virtual boots on the ground we’ve had at congresses are now on social. We can’t wait to see what works because it’s all happening so quickly.”
For those new to working with social media, “Start simply and choose one platform,” advises Luca Dezanni, franchise head, Immuno-Oncology, at AstraZeneca. He suggests targeting people with relevant professional interests on Twitter or Clubhouse to start.
Imber recommends “social listening” before diving in. Find out where physician conversations are happening and then eavesdrop. Reviewing their honest discourse and opinions on these forums, you can gain deep insights. How they are reacting? What needs are they identifying?
After listening and learning, you’re ready to jump into social media chats, host a meeting or amplify an upcoming event. And don’t stop at event promotion, Imber says. You can leverage social media so attendees can communicate during the event and afterwards. Later, the live event content can be archived.
An Omnichannel Approach
“Twitter by far is the dominant platform within healthcare,” says Dezanni. Clubhouse is growing rapidly, though, he’s observed. Clubhouse is a user-friendly, iOS-based platform that allows people to connect in virtual chat rooms on any topic they choose. After a major conference, for instance, you might visit a Clubhouse room for a daily roundup or debriefing on a scientific session.
The more social media channels you tap, the better you are able to optimize reach, Dezanni maintains. “We want to meet [customers] where they are.”
Regional experts can recommend the platform with the best fit for the specific needs of the territory in question since it varies. In general, says Dezanni, “WeChat” is widely used in China. Instagram is popular in Latin America. Europe is a mix between Twitter and LinkedIn.
Social media strategy is not “one size fits all,” echoes Imber. Medical affairs teams need to customize content for each channel.
At the same time, Dezanni adds, “Your content across different channels should be consistent even though it may be developed differently.”
Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs) have emerged as a key way to boost social media impact. Post-Covid, DOL metrics more than doubled, Imber notes.
Your team can partner with a DOL to develop content for him or her to share. This could be videos, data visualization or tutorials that target HCPs. With client guidelines, the DOL can synthesize the information, expand the outreach to physicians and strengthen your credibility.
Contracting with the right DOL who will engage your targeted audience is critical. Look into how they connect with their social media network, the topics that interest them and how often they tweet, Dezanni advises.
“Work with people who know the space well, Imber says. “The DOL needs to be authentic and have the right voice and tone.” This is short-form communication so the best content is “snackable” and conversational, he says.
Susie Spallina Twaddell, vice president of client services at Chameleon Communications International, developed a successful disease education “Tweetorial” with a DOL. Within 24 hours of the 11-tweet DOL presentation, the message reached 22,511 users with an overall impact of 86,777 people after sharing. The presentation included disease-specific hashtags, links to abstracts and articles, and polling.
With input from the DOL, Twaddell came up with the topic and the initial outline of the tutorial. The DOL wrote a series of tweets in his own words from the material she gave him. “It was impactful without a heavy time commitment for the doctor. And it was truly his voice coming through,” she says.
One of the biggest challenges of Medical Affairs has been how to measure and quantify impact, says Dezanni. “Digitization makes life easier. Everything you do with medical education on Twitter is very measurable. You know how many started a program, how many completed it, how many got a certificate at the end. And there is follow-up you can do.”
Imber describes a successful Twitter symposium that was composed of five events on different topics on five nights during the week. “We got amazing traction—62,000 live views. We could see what topics drove the most engagement.”
Digital also offers a way to be more scientific than an Excel spreadsheet, Dezanni says. “You can rank a digital opinion.” This also helps when looking for a DOL. “You can do a sophisticated analysis on each one -- See how many followers they have and understand their sphere of influence,” he says.
An important best practice when using social media is to engage all internal stakeholders in good time before putting out product information and data, stresses Thomas Lechner, vice president of medical affairs, MorphoSys. This includes the appropriate channels, he says, including medical, legal and regulatory compliance.
“Talk to respective internal stakeholders early,” Lechner recommends. “[Social media content] may require more lead time because there is a learning curve.”
Communication strategist Dimitri Wignarajah likewise reminds beginners not to compare social media to email or face-to-face communication. The rule of thumb, he says, is “Don’t do anything [on social media] that you wouldn’t do on your website.”
Have a plan for addressing feedback on your content that could be negative or “weird,” Wignarajah advises. “Create a decision tree to manage it. Is the comment correct? Does it need redirecting? Does it need to be addressed? Or is it adverse event reporting?”
All the same, he thinks that problems with comment sections are overstated in the case of the HCP targeted audience.
To sum up, social media provides a robust suite for trusted field medical teams to become a more valuable resource for doctors, says Imber. He encourages Medical Affairs teams to adapt and do things differently. But remember that social media is an “add-on,” he stresses. “It’s not a replacement for other forms of engagement.”
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