Connected External Experts: an emerging trend in healthcare

alt In late 2017 Forbes shared an article article listing the top influencers of the year. They partnered with the influencer analytics firm Traackr to measure reach, tendency for virality and engagement. With the help of the social insights tool Captiv8, they weighted each candidate’s potential for earnings per post according to the size of their following, for each category studied, including fashion, fitness and tech. But why was there not a place for “healthcare” among the top results?

Let’s first discuss what being an influencer actually means.

Influencers are social media players who have the power to affect purchase decisions due to their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience. They have following in a particular niche that they actively engage with. For example, Chiara Ferragni, the 30-year-old Milanese fashion blogger, is one of the most inspirational influencers, followed by 1.3 million Instagram users and having collaborated with a myriad of popular fashion brands. In an interview she stated:

“I think influencers right now are the new media”

Is this new kind of media something the pharmaceutical industry could benefit from?

The status quo in pharmaceuticals wants key external experts (KEEs) determined based on offline metrics, such as:

• Well-published

• Thought leader

• Active key research investigator

• Involved in clinical trial studies

• Established speaker on the congress circuit

However, an individual meeting all the requirements above may nowadays not qualify as a KEE without significant influencing potential, that can be reinforced through high online activity.

The number of healthcare professionals (HCPs) joining online communities for educational, consultation or networking purposes is increasing and studies show that internet usage among physicians worldwide already exceeds 80%. Notably, an article
published last September reported the story of a primary care doctor, Dr Kevin Pho, with 153,000 Twitter followers, who built a name thanks to his blog, KevinMD.com – the “Ferragni” way!

As more and more HCPs embrace social media and develop a following, it is important that the pharmaceutical industry adapts to this new, ever evolving, landscape to benefit from the huge potential. Connected external experts (CEEs), as smart users of social media, have the ability to reach thousands of recipients of the target audience in a quick and effective way. As Kilian Weiss, GM of Veeva Oncology Link noted, in contrast to traditional KEEs, who seem to be limited by their specialty-specific networks and are often “disconnected from their patients”, physicians with large online followings can provide insights on how a patient community is responding to a certain treatment.

But how can this be done correctly?

First of all, CEEs should not be seen as marketing tools, but rather as social relationship assets with which pharmaceutical teams can collaborate to achieve their objectives. It is important that the traditional definition of a KEE that owns a series of offline attributes is retained and the social metrics “digital following” and “online activity” are simply added to it. By applying this “convergence” approach, healthcare influencers drive attention where it should be, based on legitimate science and not just because they own a large audience.

Moreover, CEEs should receive appropriate training to ensure content compliance with the FDA regulations. HCP-specific platforms such as Sermo and Doximity could be used to limit the risk of promoting to public, as well as compliant messaging platforms, such as medCrowd to ensure patients’ confidential information is protected.

And how can pharmaceutical companies identify and monitor CEEs?

In the era of big data and analytics, targeted online search couldn’t be easier! There is a range of available tools that offer social listening for the identification of CEEs. Symplur, for example provides this service, as the only social media analytics tool that is focused solely on healthcare. Moreover, companies including systemanalytic and Cognizant provide comprehensive social network analysis (SNA). Systemanalytic are experts at advanced segmentation and phenotyping based on an individual’s digital characteristics and propensity for online interactions, mindset analysis and real-time monitoring to identify opportunities for engagement.

In conclusion, CEEs are the new-born children of the general digital era in healthcare, that the pharmaceutical industry can support grow strong, so they can leverage the potential of digital communications for the benefit of the patients. At medCrowd, we are already envisioning a virtual Congress X 2025, where HCPs and CEEs will be interacting in the online sphere, through their social networks, saving time from traveling for their patients. And although it may sound like a new episode of the series “Black Mirror”, if done correctly and compliantly, the benefits would outweigh the possible risks.