Social Media: Let the Games Begin

OncologyLive, August 2007, Volume 8, Issue 8

I recently attended an online marketing summit in Boston, and the buzzword throughout many of the sessions was social media, which, by Wikipedia's definition, describes the online technologies...

I recently attended an online marketing summit in Boston, and the buzzword throughout many of the sessions was “social media,” which, by Wikipedia’s definition, “describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves.” Social media is also referred to as “Web 2.0” or “user-generated content” (UGC) and can exist in many forms (see below).

As MDNG continues to educate, inform, and entertain our physician audience on all things technology, social media must be part of the conversation. Sermo, first out of the gate to target the physician crowd with social networking, has signed up 20,000 physicians for its free service and seems to be gaining a foothold in the industry with its recent partnership with the AMA. But what about the other players out there? You can find a list of social networking sites for docs from Dr. Subrahmanyam Karuturi’s blog. Check them out and see which one best suits your interest.

But still, what about social media as it relates to a more targeted audience, specifically, you, the physician? It’s creating new discussions and technology within the public sector, but do you care? Do you visit the sites? Do you participate in the discussions? To help us gauge your perceptions of social media, MDNG recently conducted an online survey (join the party). The results suggest that, for the most part, you all know what social media is but don’t really care about it too much. In fact, 66% said social media was either somewhat unimportant or very unimportant to their practice, and more than half of the respondents (56%) said they didn’t regularly visit any social networking sites.

Although the results aren’t too surprising to me, I think it’s important to understand the implications of social media being “unimportant” to physicians. Yes, blogging, podcasting, social networking, etc. may be unimportant when it comes to growing your practice, but have you considered the importance of social media to your patients? Do you know where patients are going to talk about their conditions? How are they using social media/news sites? Who is blogging, and who is listening? Sites like EverydayHealth and Revolution Health have opened up Web 2.0 channels that allow patients/caregivers who want to educate themselves about their conditions to do more than just read static content. Now they can actually create content themselves and communicate with other like-minded folks.

Staying current with this type of UGC enables physicians to keep their finger on the pulse of what their patients are discussing. It is also extremely valuable for pharmaceutical companies who are beginning to see the exodus from BRAND.COM to patient-site-created-by-patient sites. For more on the medical blogosphere and all things related to social media, check out the musings of our columnist Fard Johnmar.

Social media will soon be too important for physicians to ignore, because presently, more than 160 million consumers use the Internet to learn more about their health conditions/problems, according to Harris Interactive. These “cyberchondriacs,” as Harris has dubbed them, are driving the conversation with their physicians, with 58% saying they have discussed this information with their doctors at least once in the last year. They’re acting on your advice, too—more than half (55%) search for health information based on discussions with their doctors.

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. If you’re not participating now, you soon will be. I suggest finding ways to get involved, whether it’s joining a community of physicians/HCPs from the list below, downloading a few podcasts, or reading/posting some articles on Digg/ You don’t need to be an everyday blogger like the aforementioned Dr. Karuturi or Kevin Pho, MD, just try to remind yourself to read them once in a while and comment.

And then there are conferences like the upcoming Health 2.0 in San Francisco this September 20, which

will quickly get you up to speed and involved with the movers and shakers of the industry. While you’re there, look for MDNG!