Where scientific discussion is conducted has changed radically over the past few years. This shift was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which pushed in-person events online, including professional societies’ annual meetings, academic conferences and medical congresses. But it wasn’t solely an effect of the virus’s outbreak: The evolution of more and better ways of interacting digitally — and building professional relationships online — had been going on for years beforehand.
While it’s again possible for scientists and researchers to gather in person, many experts have become much more comfortable with digital engagement. This means they’re having more conversations across a wider array of digital channels, with greater numbers of participants, about more consequential issues than ever before.
It often seems as though social media has been transformed into something analogous to a 24/7 medical congress.
Of course, no matter how great its reach or how large its author’s share of voice, a tweet will never be as important as the release of a peer-reviewed publication. Nonetheless, online exchanges are supplementing and, in some cases, standing in for the casual interactions that used to take place only at conferences: the lunch meetings, networking events, and casual conversations in the hallway between sessions.
The fact that many of today’s medical congresses continue to include virtual components further blurs the distinction between online and offline gatherings. Because it’s such an effective means of making scientific content accessible to larger audiences, growing numbers of conference organizers are offering registrants the ability to participate in sessions or symposia via live streaming. Increasingly, physicians can also earn CME credits online. A few medical congresses remain all-virtual to this day.
Conference organizers have realized that the shift to virtual event formats has brought several significant advantages, including much greater attendance. The European Society of Cardiology, for example, reported a 177% increase in the number of health care professionals that registered for its 2020 annual congress — the first one it presented online. What today’s attendees seem to appreciate most is flexibility: Surveys of medical professionals reveal that while a majority prefer in-person events, they’re also more likely to attend congresses virtually that they would not normally attend in person.
Digital platforms may never replace face-to-face events entirely, but they do offer invaluable opportunities for healthcare professionals and members of the wider medical community to come together, share and exchange knowledge, and work toward the advancement of science. As growing numbers of KOLs conduct scientific discussion on social media, it’s increasingly important for medical affairs teams to ensure they can keep up with these conversations. In fact, it’s just as important as attending key medical congresses in your disease area.
The Use of Social Media for Scientific Discussion Is on the Rise
Today’s KOLs are having more and more scientific conversations on social media. According to a recent study of over 50,000 KOLs conducted by Acceleration Point, 54% of KOLs are now involved in online scientific conversations or are publishing articles or opinion pieces to digital-only platforms. This represents a major increase from even two years ago. As many as 18% of KOLs now have accounts on Twitter, but in some specialties, this percentage is even higher. It may exceed 40% in the most active specializations.
Among KOLs with Twitter accounts, more than half are currently active and 60% are in the U.S. These experts have the potential to reach large numbers of highly engaged followers — on average, their accounts have 2,200 followers each, and a full 25% of these followers are identified as HCPs. Keeping tabs on what these KOLs are tweeting allows you to understand what’s swaying the opinions of large numbers of physicians and medical experts.
A great deal of the social content these KOLs are publishing is scientific in nature. More than 60% of it mentions a specific treatment or disease, and between 7% and 20% of their conversations focus on a single disease aligned with their specialty. On average, these KOLs publish 97 original tweets per month and make 162 contributions to scientific discussions. Simply put, this is an enormous amount of conversation.
It’s not just that the number of discussions is growing. The number of relevant experts that it may be worthwhile to follow is increasing as well. Currently, most disease areas have between 20 and 30 digital opinion leaders (DOLs) globally. (Some, such as oncology and cardiology, have significantly more.) These are credentialed medical experts who — like KOLs — have relevant scientific expertise and spend their time discussing the science. Unlike KOLs, however, DOLs don’t typically rely on traditional channels such as publications and congress presentations to share their ideas. Instead, they have significant reach in the digital space, with large, well-informed, highly engaged audiences that include many HCPs.
Increasing Medical Affairs’ Impact in the Digital Space
It used to be that the vast majority of scientific discussions took place at conferences and medical congresses. KOLs would come from far and wide to share their ideas and opinions with other thought leaders. Today, the pace of the discussion is much faster, and its volume is much greater. This makes it challenging for medical affairs to keep up.
On the one hand, social media is an inherently noisy place. It’s much busier — and more distracting — than the conference-center hallways where KOLs would congregate in times past. On the other hand, it’s easier to monitor what’s taking place there because conversations always leave a digital footprint.
Medical affairs teams that leverage the right tools, including a comprehensive social-monitoring platform that can instantly identify the most relevant content from millions of sources worldwide, will find they’re greatly advantaged when it comes to separating the signal from the noise. Not only does social listening let you be part of the virtual medical congress that’s always going on on social media today, but it also enables you to identify the most relevant ideas and topics quickly and easily. A tool that uses artificial intelligence to discern contextual clues within scientific conversations can find the topics and threads most important to you — consistently and accurately. One that’s updated continually will help you keep pace with fast-flowing conversations. And one with intelligent sorting and filtering will help you keep complex information organized.
Want to learn more about the advantages that social listening can bring medical affairs as you navigate changing paradigms in the digital space? Download our new playbook, Building Meaningful Relationships: How to Engage and Collaborate with KOLs and DOLs in the Digital Space, today.