Mastering Social Media for Medical Affairs

In recent years, social media has become an increasingly important source of clinical information for physicians and healthcare professionals. In 2020, ~73% of oncologists noted they were using social media as a clinical information source, with 28% and 45% indicating they used Twitter and LinkedIn, respectively. In addition, a study in PLoS One1 demonstrated a 63% increase in page views for articles that were tweeted. As such, many pharmaceutical companies are seeking to use social media channels to reach audiences and address their educational needs.

Many pharmaceutical companies have launched social media channels successfully for the purpose of facilitating scientific exchange — Allergan, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Company, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, and Sanofi, to name a few. Content generation on these channels has largely started with sharing links to recent publications and conference presentations, but what is the next step? How can we evolve, as an industry, from data dissemination to true two-way engagement, leveraging all of the opportunities that abound within these channels in ways that compliance will still deem appropriate for communicating medical information?

Aligning content with audience preferences

First, it is pivotal to understand the content preferences of your audience(s) by developing personas for them. Leverage syndicated research, as well as other information sources like insights from medical science liaisons or surveys, to enhance your understanding of educational needs and pain points. This value expands beyond use for social media alone and should guide development of the overall medical communication plan. It may even help identify whether social media is the correct vehicle, given your objectives. You may also be able to glean insights directly from digital opinion leaders through an advisory board. Audiences have starkly differing needs and pain points and may prefer to ingest content in different ways, such as long-form versus short multimedia summaries. Given that one content strategy will not fit everyone’s needs, this process allows you to define what those needs are.

Choosing the right social media channel

Next, examine how best to utilize each channel. This is the piece that puts Medical Affairs on the same playing field as every other industry — each social media channel has a mission, purpose, and unique audience. For instance, Instagram is a purely visual platform, and its use is entirely mobile. If you are not able to tell your story, display your data, or educate through the use of images with short associated copy, it’s probably not the best channel for you. If you have a strong brand voice and wish to lean into the exchange aspect of Medical Affairs, Twitter has proven to be a useful channel. If your objective is instead to attract the best talent to your organization by sharing relevant data and innovative solutions, LinkedIn is the channel for professional engagement.

Optimizing content for your audiences

Once you have identified the correct channel for your objectives, audiences, and content, the true optimization begins. There are different content formats you can use on social media to drive toward specific goals. Do you want to drive awareness of your participation in a particular conference? Or are you seeking feedback on a recent peer-reviewed article? Or are you a new company that wants to establish itself in a crowded therapeutic landscape? All of those goals require different types of content—content that increases visibility, asks questions or probes deeper discussion, or is posted often to mirror a newly active participant in a disease area.

  • Driving awareness
    • Your presence has to be consistent. Posting sporadically will not get you the impressions you need on your channel or your content, nor will posting too frequently (dozens of times each day) because that will lead to a decrease in followers
    • Pick the right times to post, typically determined from when you have received the most engagement previously because that is when your audience is online
    • On appropriate social media channels (e.g., Twitter), use hashtags so users who do not follow you are still able to see your content
    • Tag authors or other company handles in your posts for additional visibility on their networks
  • Content consumption
    • Learn to write persuasive social media post copy. Posts are like headlines, and the best headlines are the ones that state a benefit and generate curiosity
    • Focus on the right keywords. Much like people using search engines for queries, they do the same on various social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. The more you know about user search behavior and their lexicon, the better armed you are to align your content with those keywords
    • Share only your best content. First impressions online are just as important as they are in person. If someone has clicked on your content previously and been disappointed in the interaction for whatever reason, they will be less likely to click again
    • Use words that encourage clicks. Learn from your commercial colleagues who have studied how specific terminology used within calls-to-action have been proven to increase click-throughs

Ensuring visibility of content

It is not just about developing great content, but also about ensuring your audiences see it. There are ways to do this both organically, meaning no additional dollars spent on widening the reach or visibility of your posts, as well as traditionally, meaning paid options that may require lengthy conversations with compliance.

No additional cost options

  1. Employees may share content with their own networks, whereas opinion leaders may be willing to share content and also comment on posts
  2. Posts can also incorporate relevant hashtags aligned with other content of interest, including industry specific2 or conference hashtags
  3. Other company-owned assets (e.g., websites, e-signatures, virtual booths) should link to social media properties
  4. Other company social media channels, such as corporate channels, can share content from the Medical Affairs handle(s)
  5. Leverage key opinion leaders and digital opinion leaders to help assist with channel engagement by

Identifying influencers to follow and opportunities to engage (follow back, retweet, comment, or like)

Creating digital profiles of high-priority influencers and understanding what content they engage with

Helping to identify a range of messages or content types that may be relevant to audience interests or needs

Piecing together a content journey that aligns with audience educational needs

Paid options

  1. Targeting: Twitter allows the development of customized audience lists that can be expanded to “look-alike” audiences based on their Twitter activity, while LinkedIn allows you to target groups such as self-declared oncologists, institutional research decision makers, and other audiences of interest based on profile descriptions
  2. Ads: Twitter supports quizzes and polls to ask provocative questions to generate engagement, whereas Twitter and LinkedIn can promote organic postings to elevate visibility of content, generate engagement, and grow your follower base

Measurement and adjustment

Your social media strategy should also include identification and selection of metrics that allow you to measure progress toward your goals and objectives. Medical social media should focus on 3 key objectives: (1) elevating the visibility of important medical content, (2) providing that content in a manner aligned with values and how audiences want to receive the information, and (3) engaging in meaningful scientific dialogue. These objectives inform 3 primary key performance indicators essential to measuring any medical social media campaign.

Engaging in meaningful dialogue requires a deep understanding of your audience and what they value; dialogue rate measures those conversations and provides insight on whether you are delivering on their needs

  1. Meaningful contributions to scientific exchange require delivery of that content to the broader community, amplification rate measures broader impact beyond exposure to your immediate social network
  2. Does your audience appreciate your content? This metric measures the degree to which your audiences find your content to be valuable

Conclusion

At the outset of the emergence of social media into the marketing industry, the first few social media specialist roles were traditionally entry-level or internships as part of larger digital teams. But that is because we did not understand the complexity at the time. What once started as a blip in a syllabus of a broader digital media class is now its own degree at some institutions. In the early 2000s, it may have just been good enough to do social media marketing. Similarly, in 2020 it may have been good enough to simply launch a Medical Affairs social media channel. However, success is not driven by following the leader — it comes through being the leader. And by recognizing all of the intricacies that go into whether a social media strategy could succeed or fail, you are one step closer to creating content that will drive scientific exchange forward and move the Medical Affairs industry into uncharted social media territory.

Leslie Rotz is Director, Digital Strategy & Operations, MedThink, Inc.

Notes

1. Maggio et al. PLoS One. 2019;14:e0223992

2. https://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/