Industry Insights from Brian Castle
As in nearly all other aspects of life, social media is fast becoming a dominant force in the world of healthcare. Leading centers of excellence—hospitals, clinics, research foundations, and universities—are utilizing social media to educate patients about medical resources and treatments on a daily basis. Biopharmaceutical companies are using social media to promote new medications and further educate patients about other wellness resources at their disposal to help with debilitating diseases and conditions.
Physicians and other healthcare professionals, like practically every other profession, are embracing social media at unprecedented levels, engaging with each other on everything from new medical devices to tough medical cases. Due to this rise in HCP use of social media, some have begun to question the very essence of what makes a key opinion leader in the medical profession.
Some of these questioners have gone a step farther, at their ultimate peril, in misinterpreting physician involvement in spaces like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and physician-only social media networks like Sermo. They incorrectly perceive that social media participation is the new thought leadership. Last year, I sat in the audience for a presentation by a leader in the pharmaceutical industry. This person posited a talking point she’d heard from an executive at a physician-only social media network: “If you’re not in their social network, you’re not a KOL.” She went on to say that this network was “where thought leadership was happening.” This is wrong-headed, at best, and a risk to public health, at worst.
Since when did showing up to any game make you one of the best players? I have a LinkedIn profile, for instance, and I engage in dialogue with my connections on a variety of topics, both personal and professional. At times, I even advise others and take their advice to meet a number of professional challenges. I also post and talk about a lot of material, on subjects of interest to me, by other authors.
Does any of this activity, much less my presence and participation on the site, make me a thought leader? Of course not. It makes me a guy that’s active on social media, a person who embraces technology and likes to use that technology to stay in touch with fellow professionals. So, how would you figure out if I’m a thought leader, or just a guy that’s showing up to the social media party and making a little noise?
Well, you’d take a look at what I do for a living—marketing. Marketing people find themselves typically judged in terms of their creativity, experience, and the breadth of work in their respective portfolios. In order to ascertain the level of my expertise, you’d try to find me in other places on the internet—websites that feature my work in writing blogs, guiding site design, and social media channels I run for Thought Leader Select. If you wanted to be particularly thorough and actually validate these findings, you may even want to reach out to me directly for my resume to confirm what you see out there.
So let’s say you’d identified me as a thought leader by doing all of your research on me first. And let’s assume that you did the best you could, with your own ability to measure my skills, experiences, and accomplishments, and determined that I have achieved thought leader status on some level in my field. Then, and only then, would you go out to social media and see how I’m acting and what I’m saying to influence others or be influenced myself. This would be a quite useful exercise, since you would see how I use social media, one avenue out of many veins of communication, to interact with others.
To the contrary, let’s say you studied me, and you found out that I had a rather thin resume and pretty light portfolio of my own work, reflective of a general lack of skill and experience. Would you really care about what I’m saying out there in social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, or ones open to my profession only? I didn’t think so.
So, we’ve proven that just seeing me active in social media and assuming I’m a thought leader is quite haphazard. So if I’m not a thought leader, and you hire me for your next engagement initiative and achieve poor results, what are the consequences? You waste money paying me, lose time and money you could have spent having a good launch of your initiative, and maybe you even put the fate of your business in peril.
So what are the consequences for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and diagnostics companies when they hire assumed key opinion leaders who instead merely represent part of the “chattering class” in social media? Wasted time and money, sure. Products and devices that may never come to market due to misrepresentation and misinformation by the wrong experts collaborating with industry on development—a very real possibility.
Quite simply, in healthcare, the stakes are too high to get the measure of thought leadership wrong. We must continue to measure physicians and health care professionals by the amount of work they do in their field, and, especially, the quality and relevance of their work. We must continue to look at areas like basic and clinical research, scientific journal publishing, treatment guidelines involvement, and presenting breakthrough work at medical meetings and congresses, in order to ascertain who the real key opinion leaders in medicine are at global, national, regional, and local levels.
How many times one “tweets” each day or pops into a professional network to chat with others is not indicative of someone’s knowledge, skill, or expertise. To say otherwise is silly talk. Let’s not get so caught up in the social media wave that we forget its purpose. Social media is a vital communications tool for a variety of reasons—I’m a marketing guy for goodness’ sake, and I’ve learned to believe in social media myself. But let’s not give everybody a ribbon or a trophy just for showing up. Let’s continue to vet each and every person we deal with as if our lives depended on it. Because in the case of healthcare, our lives actually do depend on it.