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Do You Know the 3 Types of Medical Thought Leaders on Social Media?

Mar 10, 2021

If you saw our piece on healthcare practitioners (HCPs) and social media, you may recall why doctors are motivated to tweet, post, share, and publish on these open platforms. That is the very reason why! Unlike traditional avenues to disseminate science, social media are instant. Whereas peer-reviewed studies take many months to produce before audiences can access them, a #tweetorial needs only a few minutes to compose. 

Medical Affairs teams are wise to monitor medical thought leaders—those HCPs whose online following includes hundreds to thousands of other doctors. This audience respects and trusts the thought leader’s perspective on new treatment paradigms, recently published clinical trials, and other relevant topics within their therapeutic area. 

At Acceleration Point, we enable clients to identify relevant physician-thought leaders to monitor what is being said by them or about them as well as what those same leaders are saying about our clients’ therapeutic area and even products. This really is a discovery process. 

Medical Affairs is no longer limited to conferences and traditional publications to find and engage medical thought leaders. There are new, impactful voices that many times Medical Affairs teams had not been made aware of before. Logging and categorizing these leaders is a great way to expand your network but also speed up medical insight dissemination when the time comes to engage them. And it will. (Check out our ultimate guide to medical thought leader engagement, Top 10 Ways to Engage Digital Opinion Leaders.) 

One caveat before we look at the three types of medical thought leaders on social media: Only about 20% have Twitter accounts. Even fewer have a strong digital presence. Still, engaging with digital thought leaders is beneficial. It’s like diversifying an investment portfolio. Many ways to win, few ways to lose, so to speak. In Medical Affairs, that means more opportunities to collect insights and disseminate scientific data that ultimately improves patient outcomes. It just so happens you’re engaging diverse thought leaders to do it. That’s why spreading out your opinion leader strategy across a varied selection can be beneficial. Understand how each thought leader manages their profile, and you set yourself up for successful collaborations. 

Now for the types. Medical thought leaders can be divided into three categories that reflect their focus and method:

1. Traditional Thought Leader

An example is Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, a Harvard University cardiology researcher. Traditional thought leaders like Dr. Bhatt are established experts with an incredibly vast scientific publication history. Dr. Bhatt has over 179,800 citations to his name alone. Dr Bhatt doesn’t have a Twitter account or any owned content on social media. However, he has strong earned content on social media, often being quoted by other HCPs, journals, societies and news outlets.

2. Digital Thought Leader

An example is Rita Thamman, MD, founder of the first and still only woman-owned cardiology practice in the tri-state area of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Digital opinion leaders like Dr. Thamman do not have a strong scientific publication and presentation history as traditional opinion leaders. However, they are active with the alternative—the internet. Dr. Thamman has a remarkable online presence with both owned and earned content. She has given podcast interviews, authored a book, blogged extensively, shared her views on women’s health on social media, and been featured and quoted in online publications read by peers in cardiology.

3. Combined Digital/Traditional Thought Leader

An example is Michael Blaiss, MD, Executive Medical Director at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Hybrid thought leaders like Dr. Blaiss have a combination of strong scientific history and an active online presence. Both widely published and easily found online, Dr. Blaiss is a trusted voice who is heard loud and clear. His work on asthma appears in peer-reviewed journals, and he appears on platforms such as US News & World Report. 

Again, we recommend that you engage and monitor activities from all three types of thought leaders. You might find digital leaders are great for boosting engagement but lack the in-depth science you are looking for. You’ll also find thought leaders who have an even larger audience than the people you’ve been working with. Or they share an audience in a different specialty than what you’re used to. That’s where the benefits of digital thought leaders begin. At the same time, you want to have traditional thought leaders who have established credibility. Balance is key as you explore thought leaders who match all aspects of your organization. 

For practical advice on how to identify and engage these leaders, click here to read our special report Top 10 Ways to Engage Digital Opinion Leaders. 

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