HCPs' Social Media Presence and Listening for Data Insights - Part I

The first of two parts of Pharmaceutical Executive's Q&A discussion with Vinod Badami, Vice President, Data and Analytics at Indegene.

Like most internet users, Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) have a strong presence on social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter. They share valuable information and engage in a wide range of healthcare conversations, promoting therapies, interacting with patients, and increasing awareness of medical news and discoveries – all eventually improving overall health outcomes.

Mining this data presents a promising opportunity for life sciences organizations as it provides insights into the key drivers of HCPs’ social media conversations, the type of content they share, what events they are engaging in, and how they prefer to engage online. These insights help commercial teams laser-target their prospecting efforts with relevant content, enabling them to build and nurture HCP relationships in a truly meaningful way and eventually convert them into business opportunities.

This technique is popularly known as social selling, and companies across industries have been leveraging it for decades. According to LinkedIn, 78% of social sellers outsell peers who do not use social media.

In the first of a two part Q&A session, Pharmaceutical Executive chats with Vinod Badami, Vice President, Data and Analytics at Indegene.

Pharm Exec: We know that HCPs are normal people who have made social media a part of their everyday life. Why is social media witnessing an HCP surge in recent years and where are they spending most of their time?

Vinod Badami: In the age of tech-savvy digital natives, the rate at which HCPs are adopting social media platforms for engagement is on par with that among non-HCP users. As channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook permeate almost every aspect of a person’s life, they undoubtedly become one of the world’s most popular ways for people to connect.

This is no different in the world of HCPs.

The number of verifiable HCPs on Twitter has continued to grow since the launch of the platform in 2006. The last recorded1 number of HCPs on the platform was 600,000 as of 2019, marking a whopping six-fold increase over the past decade. The number is even higher on LinkedIn, with over a million pharmaceutical professionals active on the platform. Healthcare influencers on LinkedIn have more than 2.4 million followers combined2, creating a large community of people seeking healthcare-related content every day.

The social distancing norms imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic have restricted in-person meetings between HCPs and pharmaceutical organizations and peers, propelling the use of social media channels to exchange and seek valuable healthcare and medical-related information. HCPs are not only becoming increasingly comfortable with discussing healthcare topics like the latest treatment options, clinical trial results, and patient care with peers, but they also prefer engaging with sales representatives on these platforms.

According to Indegene’s 2021 Digital-Savvy HCP Report3, 52% of HCPs said that they prefer to receive medical and promotional information from pharmaceutical companies on social media - a sharp increase from 41% recorded in 2020.

But their engagement is not just limited to channels like LinkedIn, WeChat or Twitter. Closed community groups like Sermo and Doximity are also widely used by HCPs to network with their peers and share/discuss patient experiences.

What specific aspects of social listening is pharma placing its bets on?

As social media use continues to grow among HCPs, a massive amount of information is exchanged every day around medical news and discoveries - making these platforms a treasure trove of information for pharmaceutical organizations. This presents a golden opportunity for commercial teams to find ways to deliver content effectively on channels that these HCPs are already using.

Understanding the kind of content that HCPs resonate with on these platforms is essential to effectively engage with them. It starts with analyzing the content that HCPs share and monitoring their conversations on social media channels. Through this, organizations get the intelligence they need to identify key drivers of HCP discussions, enabling them to:

  • Design laser-focused marketing campaigns
  • Identify target prospects much faster
  • Build new relationships and nurture existing ones
  • Create meaningful engagements with relevant content
  • Increase brand awareness among HCPs

Social listening also addresses a major challenge highlighted in Indegene’s 2021 Digital-Savvy HCP Report4 where 70% of HCPs said that pharma representatives do not understand their requirements completely, and 62% of them said that the most significant area where pharma representatives can add value is, by understanding the needs of HCPs and sharing only relevant content with them to make the interactions more insightful.

How is the issue of data privacy being addressed when mining insights from HCP/patient data on social media?

Privacy preservation in social media data mining is crucial to ensure all sensitive user-generated data is secured as it passes through different third-party platforms. Organizations must adopt Privacy-Preserving Data Mining (PPDM) techniques to facilitate knowledge extraction from large datasets on social media, while preventing the disclosure of sensitive information. Trained Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Natural Language Processing (NLP) models can automatically intercept all sensitive information during the data collection or sharing phase. This is done either by randomising specific values or anonymizing specific records before the data is collected or shared between parties.

What percentage of digital spends are earmarked for social media selling?

According to Indegene’s 2020 Pharma Marketer Survey5, organizations in the US allocate about 6% of their overall digital marketing budget for social media activities, while Europe and Asia allocate 8% individually.

1 https://creation.co/knowledge/more-healthcare-professionals-are-on-twitter-than-ever-before/

2 https://www.linkedin.com/business/marketing/blog/linkedin-ads/linkedin-advancing-healthcare-marketing-in-a-new-world

3,4 https://www.indegene.com/insights/article/digitally-savvy-hcp

5 https://www.indegene.com/pdf/pharma-marketer-survey.pdf