What the Increasingly Granular Nature of Social Media Means for Communications

Last week I posted a few thoughts about how to get more out of medical meetings, inspired by the excellent work of some other bloggers I regularly read.  Today, I’m posting a few thoughts about how communications has changed and how that impacts our communications in healthcare.   No rocket science here, but something to keep in mind – it has been my experience that is sometimes hard to have perspective of the changes that have occurred when you are still in midst of the change itself.

Social media has many hallmarks – it is participatory, for example, in ways that media never was before.  But an important characteristic of social media is how personal it is.  I can get information that I am interested in – and if you are trying to talk to me, you should be targeting my interests, not the lowest common denominator.  If you aren’t doing that, you should be using another medium to communicate – like broadcast – because I’m not generally going to be interested in broad messages sent via social media.  (This, by the way, is one of the primary reasons I believe that pharma YouTube channels are such failures.)

So what effect does that have?  Well let’s go back to the medical meeting example.  Most medical meetings now have hashtags assigned to them.  This allows people inside the meeting and outside the meeting to see what is being said by anyone who is talking about the meeting – it categorizes news so that people can follow it.  #ASCO2012, for example, is an example one might use for next year’s meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.  I have suggested in the past that the FDA might assign hashtags to Advisory Committee meetings so that the proceedings could be followed in one spot, but the agency will probably have to put that out for a study, public comment, and guidance development process which might take 15 or 20 years….

The fact that social media is so much more personal means that you must organize your communications in increasingly granular forms for targeted audiences in order to be effective.  So taking the example of medical meetings again, there should not only be a hashtag set up for the meeting, there should be variations of the hashtag where more specific communications can be classified.  Using my made up example of ASCO2012 – that might mean a hashtag for ASCO2012Prostrate or ASCO2012Lymph for prostate cancer information or lymphoma, respectively.  Of course, one has to be creative or the hashtag will eat up all 140 characters allowed by Twitter.

And on YouTube, it doesn’t mean just creating one channel and tossing up any old video to see what sticks.  It means creating multiple channels, or at the very least, multiple playlists, to categorize and package information for a targeted group of people.

And the granular nature of social media is evident not only in the way you communicate, but in the way people communicate about you.  Twitter has evolved from a medium for individuals to one for institutions and news outlets.  Newspapers began a feed, and then, reflecting the more granular nature of social media, subdivided their feeds by subject matter – like a paper having a sports section.  Then reporters began to tweet in earnest and the result is that their reporting via Twitter is very different from what might appear in a news segment or written story.  They are more granular observations.  I follow Jake Tapper, for example, ABC’s White House correspondent.  One day he tweeted about meeting First Dog – Bo Obama.  Not a subject likely to appear in his news segment, but one in which I was very interested.  This is to say that what is being reported about you is also going to be more granular via social media.  For example, at an Advisory Committee meeting (one without a hashtag), a reporter might tweet about expressions your team exchanges or gaffes made – not something that would normally make a story, but in which some might be interested in nonetheless.

Whether communications will continue its march to more specificity is anyone’s guess, but one thing is clear.  We want to hear more specific messages, you need to communicate more specific messages, and more specific messages are going to be sent about you.  Don’t make a communications plan without that mind, unless you are going back to the turn of the century when none of this was really happening yet.

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