Please login to the form below

Not currently logged in

Building meaningful customer engagement through data-driven digital insights

Understanding the helpful insights that online HCP conversations can reveal

The behaviours of healthcare professionals (HCPs) are changing and in the last six months there has been a large increase in their use of social media.

Many HCPs have been posting online at more than double their usual rate and pharmaceutical companies have been accelerating their digital plans and tactics by learning from their customers’ online conversations, according to research.

Building a meaningful brand as a pharmaceutical company can become quite overwhelming. With multichannel marketing and so many new opportunities and challenges, it can be difficult to effectively engage with your HCP customers.

But one thing has remained constant: the first and most important thing is to understand and listen to your customers.

The collective intelligence of HCPs on social media

When health topics are discussed on social media, we have found that HCPs contribute around 5% of the online conversation. The other 95% comes from patients, organisations, the media and members of the public.

Distilling the conversation down to only include posts from HCPs reveals a unique source of collective intelligence. There are millions of HCPs contributing billions of social media posts, and this is increasing every day.

Pre-COVID-19 we saw that the proportion of health-related conversations by HCPs was on the rise. After analysing the network of HCPs in the North East of England we saw that up to 50% of their posts were health-related posts, up from 10% in 2013. This is a behaviour that has only increased since the beginning of 2020.

We know that the thought of analysing the unprompted social media conversation of your HCP customers can be overwhelming and challenging, but the first step is to simply listen to them.

You don’t have to start engaging or collaborating with them, just listen to their conversations and you will soon start to understand who they are, their needs, what they think about different topics and what kind of support they would like.

Let’s take a look at some of the areas where understanding the online HCP conversation can reveal powerful insights and support your ongoing brand strategy and tactics.

Content planning

It may be relevant to discover what HCPs really feel about the products that you have in development. If you are a pharmaceutical product leader, it is likely that HCPs have begun to shape their perceptions of your product well before you have developed your brand plan.

There are several long-awaited new treatments emerging for pancreatic cancer. When we did a study of HCP views on pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment, we saw a real passion among HCPs to understand data on new products, discuss the data together and consider what that data means going forward.

Following negative results from the APACT trial, Shaalan Beg, a gastrointestinal oncologist, created a poll which asked his peers: ‘What will be your preferred option?’ Responses came from 39 people, which created a valuable learning resource for anyone else wanting to consider implications following the trial.

When thinking about content planning it is essential to convey the right message and reflect the language that your customers are using.

When HCPs chat online, they often discuss the burden of disease and patient concerns as well as discussing efficacy, pricing and medicine administration. These conversations highlight customer needs that are likely to be specific to each role type and market.

Congress tactics

It can be valuable to follow the online conversations of HCPs prior to, during and after congress events to understand who or what is influencing their views, especially during this time where most of the medical congresses are held virtually.

When we analysed what HCPs think about virtual congresses we found that, while HCPs are interested in attending virtual congresses, they miss seeing their colleagues and collaborating with them face-to-face.

By finding new ways to collaborate effectively online and through the use of live updates to support their peers, HCPs are still able to gain value from virtual congresses.

For example, the use of specific hashtags during this time is especially important to help HCPs to quickly access the content they are interested in.

During the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO 2020) first virtual congress, gynaecologic oncology professionals created a new hashtag: #goASCO20. which brought together the specific ASCO 2020 gynaecologic oncology conversations.

It was the tenth most used cancer-type hashtag by HCPs in the online #ASCO20 conversation (see Image 1).

By tracking the engagement of HCPs at congress meetings and listening to their conversations you can:

  • Understand their views and interests
  • Monitor and learn from their digital behaviours
  • Identify their information needs and concerns about prescribing new products
  • Learn the language and messaging they are using
  • Gain competitive intelligence
  • Recognise strategic digital partnerships
  • Identify the influencers or Digital Opinion Leaders.


Our study of HCP conversations about pancreatic cancer showed that they were most engaged with their peers. As well as other HCPs, however, patient advocacy groups (PAGs) were also highly engaged, with the top two being PanCAN and Let’s Win! Pancreatic Cancer.

HCPs shared, mentioned and interacted with these groups, reflecting the trust that exists between them. The data suggests that manufacturers who successfully engage with these organisations in a meaningful way also have the opportunity to reach HCPs (see Image 2).

An example of successful digital engagement can be seen in Celgene’s initiative to launch a hashtag, #PancChat, together with patient advocacy group Let’s Win! Pancreatic Cancer’s co- founder Allyson Ocean, in 2016.

This hashtag continues to bring together patients and HCPs in an online conversation, and the chart (see Image 2) illustrates how #PancChat has been a key driver of the online HCP conversation around pancreatic cancer.

Each orange dot indicates a #PancChat discussion that HCPs use to engage with one another, patients and PAGs (see Image 3).

Digital Opinion Leaders

When involved in brand planning, it is important to think about the role of Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs). DOLs are the HCPs who are significantly influencing the conversation and views of their peers and the public online.

Metrics to consider when identifying a DOL include:

  • Do they post relevant content?
  • Do they have a high peer or public following?
  • Are they trusted among online HCP peers?
  • Do they carry influence offline?
  • Do they have an existing relationship with you?

In a recent collaboration with Frontline. Live, a charity working to address personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages in the UK, we analysed the conversations of healthcare workers on public social media to understand who is influencing the PPE narrative online.

Taking into account factors such as peer following and network integration, we identified the UK’s top three HCP Digital Opinion Leaders in the PPE conversation: professor and primary care physician Trish Grenhalgh, palliative care physician and author Rachel Clarke and cardiologist and MedShr CEO Asif Qasim.

While each DOL presents a different online viewpoint, whether it’s a focus on academic content, or stories that are political in nature, they are all using their online presence to raise awareness for PPE needs and promote better services for healthcare workers and patients (see Image 4).

Identifying and learning about the individual behaviours of your DOLs allows you to explore potential partnership opportunities.

By listening to their online conversations and understanding their individual behaviours, you can leverage insights from the HCPs that are shaping the views on any topic, in any country.

What next?

We have covered content tactics, congress strategy, partnerships and identifying and activating digital opinion leaders. You know your HCP customers are online and that they are likely to be talking about your product and its competitors.

These insights can inform your customer engagement, both online and offline.

Your next steps:

  • Discover which online networks your HCPs are using and plan channel-specific engagement
  • Discover the unmet needs of your HCPs and use this information to drive content creation
  • Discover the digital behaviours of your HCPs to plan your congress strategy early on
  • Discover which organisations or patient advocacy groups you have a vision alignment with that are already integrated into the HCP conversations
  • Discover who your digital opinion leaders are and build a relationship with them.

Following the application of these steps to your brand strategy, you can track the online response, learn how it shapes the behaviour of HCPs online and then use the learning to improve future campaigns.

Anni Neumann is a Senior Health Strategist at

1st March 2021

Anni Neumann is a Senior Health Strategist at

1st March 2021

From: Marketing



Career advice

No results were found

Subscribe to our email news alerts

Featured jobs


Add my company
Collected Group

Collected Group is a forward thinking healthcare communication company that supports biopharma and diagnostic companies to engage in more lasting...