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The heart of the matter: Part Two

How is social media impacting publication planning?
How is social media impacting publication planning?The rise in digital communications, turbo-charged of late by social media, has wrought huge changes in the way health information is consumed, discussed and shared.

In the medical mainstream, one of the best examples of how far social media activity has come is provided by the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal’s deft use of social media has seen it gain more than a million Likes on Facebook, aided by tactics such as a daily quiz and a weekly image challenge app on the social network.

The pharmaceutical industry, of course, has also devoted an increasing amount of time to social media in recent years. Communications and branding teams have led the way but publication planning lags behind, as discussions of clinical data move beyond the traditional publication environment and into these new communication channels.

The use of such channels in the publications world range from the mainstream - where the NEJM is far from being alone in using the likes of Facebook and Twitter - to the more specific, where a key one for publication planners to watch is PubMed Commons. With a forum accessible to all, PubMed Commons was launched in December 2013 and allows immediate commenting on the latest research posted to the world’s largest biomedical literature database. Authors can also update their work and even point to efforts - whether successful or not - to replicate their work.

“The fact that, with PubMed Commons, there is now an online forum for public commentary on PubMed publications is huge,” says Sarah Feeny, head of scientific direction at Complete Medical Communications. “To ignore that and not see the conversations people are having about data and publications - and in such a visible arena - would be remiss.”

Meanwhile, among the mainstream social channels. Twitter in particular clearly resonates as a tool within the medical community at congresses - this year’s ASCO meeting even saw the American Society of Clinical Oncology line up ‘official tweeters’ for its meeting in May. However, as An Analysis of Twitter Activity of Pharmaceutical Companies and Tweets Relating to Publication Activity, Sarah’s ISMPP 2014 award-winning poster, shows, industry adoption of social media remains variable.

Ensuring an ethical approach
For any company’s publication-related activity to work there must be a strict separation of publication activities and those with a commercial focus. But therein lays a dilemma in relation to social media: Is the aim to publish data in the health research ecosystem? Or is it to use publications as a key channel to engage with healthcare professional and patient audiences about the data? The first is low cost/low gain, while the second strategy is high risk/high gain and so may offer the best rewards - but it also acknowledges that the broadcasting of publication activities is potentially risky if it puts it into the realms of promotional activity.

The regulatory considerations are, as this year’s staggered release of US social media guidance from the FDA shows, still not entirely clear and they require new policies to deal with issues, such as adverse events reporting, that may arise.

“The important thing for publication planners is that the three medical communications agencies within McCann Complete Medical have an incredibly strong heritage in publication ethics,” says Sarah. “So we can ensure that when we consider any of the kinship between how data is contextualised in the journal world and in the social media world, it’s done in a way that is appropriate.

“There also is a group of us from that background that are really interested in this particular field. So we can share with our clients what other companies are doing - even if it’s not something that they’re going to incorporate this year, or perhaps even next year, it’s information that they have so that they can see the trends that are emerging.”

Going beyond reach
Among the most significant implications of social media for publication planning are its potential to first inform the ethical publication planning process from its earliest stages, and subsequently to assess the impact of the resulting publications. As Andy Shepherd, a senior medical writer at Caudex Medical, notes: “Good research is no use to anyone if nobody actually reads it.”Graph 1

Andy, whose social media monitoring work took home the award for Best Original Research at ISMPP Europe 2014 in London, sees many more applications for social media in publication planning than simply improving awareness of product data in publications. “It also offers us a lot of other opportunities to engage with the audience a lot better, see what questions they’re asking, get immediate feedback on the research and the publications, and get a lot of information from our audience.”

But, as Caudex Medical’s multichannel director Richard Ashdown says: “You only get out of this what you put in, with regards to your objectives for analysis - are you looking for engagement points or do you want to see where things have been shared or who is doing the sharing and what’s being expressed?”

Furthermore, a shift in mindset is also required, as Richard explains: “There’s a difference between thinking that publications is a channel that’s listened to and fed into, and moving to the point where a channel’s used for engagement across a broader audience.”

The right tools for the job
To analyse the impact of social media on your publication you need to correctly apply the best tools for the job - starting potentially with the social media monitoring tools (that are more usually used to analyse a campaign’s impact) to follow research and publication. Complete Medical Communications has been assessing the capabilities of providers such as Talkwalker and Digimind, as well as ‘in-publication’ social media monitoring.

“With these tools, the critical thing is understanding the anomalies and the limitations,” explains Sarah. “You can’t just take the data at face value - you need to understand the publications arena to interpret the findings in the correct manner.

“Bringing together the discipline of digital strategy and delivery with experts from publication planning has allowed us to start to develop our own tools specifically for publication planners.”

Medical communications agencies within McCann Complete Medical are also at the forefront of using the new generation of publications-specific ‘additional’ metrics. This emerging discipline focuses on capturing quantitative and qualitative insights about the level of sharing of, and commentary on, publications, and can even pick up commentary by online patient opinion leaders, the influences on which are increasingly varied (see right).

While impact factors remain well-used they have a number of flaws. Additional metrics, sometimes referred to as alternative metrics, offer a further way of measuring the footprint of articles - through measurements such as page views, paper downloads and comments, which are often available on an immediate basis, and there are a number of service providers working in this area, including Altmetric. They allow users to understand the reach and impact of articles beyond journal citations and provide richer information about which journal could be right for your research. Alongside access to, and understanding of, the right tools, pharma clearly needs to engage those with a seasoned capability to interpret the combination of qualitative and quantitative data that social media monitoring provides.

Andy says: “Using these tools to actually engage with the audience can help us prioritise future research and publications to answer the questions that are being asked in the real world.”Graph 2

It is clear that social media has evolved to the point where it can complement traditional methods of measuring the impact of scientific publications and help planners better understand how publications and data are consumed by the medical community.

“In the future the discussion of data in online communities - whatever they might be - will become much more of a norm,” says Sarah. “Therefore, we need to understand and track those conversations if we’re going to give the medical community information they will find interesting and the analyses that they’re looking for.”

Key takeawards
  • Social media activities should be evaluated by publication planning teams
  • Activities at the intersection of publications and social media must comply with relevant regulations
  • Advice on monitoring should be agnostic to any one tool or set of tools
  • One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to social media 

16th September 2014

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