For those who have been actively tweeting during the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, Twitter may have made their 2013 ASCO experience a little different–researchers who did not know each other quickly started a conversation online, oncologists who missed a session found key data through a simple Twitter search, journalists realized it was so much easier to track down a spokesperson by sending a tweet, pharma companies were thrilled that resources dedicated to maintaining an active Twitter presence earned significant impressions.
Indeed, the 2013 gathering of ASCO on Twitter has been just as impressive as the physical one taking place in Chicago–the congress’ official Twitter hashtag #ASCO13 has already generated more than 16,000 tweets. Last year, the number was 11,000. And only a little bit over 4,000 tweets were issued during the 2011 ASCO. The total number of ASCO Annual Meeting tweets increased 300% in the last two years. The #ASCO13 volume at one point was so high that the hashtag became one of the trendy topics across the entire Twitter.
The impressive number of tweets and online collaborations among participants during this year’s ASCO suggest social media, especially Twitter has become an integral part of the world’s largest annual meeting for the oncology research community. There is not doubt that more tweets will be generated at #ASCO14 and we will see an even more diverse group of online participants at #ASCO15.
The question here is “then what?”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, emerging communication channels like Twitter has made medical information much more available for the general public. To become a member of the ASCO 2013 online community, all you need is to include #ASCO13 in your tweets. But including the hashtag is the easy part. Moving forward, it is more important for us to ask what we can do to make the online conversations more relevant, how Twitter can be used in a more meaningful way, how we can continue the online discussion when the meeting is over, what else can be done from a social media perspective in the future to facilitate engagement and whether channels like Twitter can ultimately create value from a healthcare perspective.
I identified four areas where innovations and improvements can be made to leverage the use of social media for ASCO and the oncology research community.
Facilitating meeting participants to understand the value of Twitter and engage effectively online
With cancer researchers and oncologists being key members of ASCO, they should he the driving force of online conversations. But first, they need to possess knowledge of social media channels where conversations are taking place. The reality is many physicians still have concerns with social media. It is imperative for ASCO to showcase the value of online engagement and encourage participants to join the online community. As Dr. Anas Younes mentioned in an ASCO Daily News article, Twitter can be an effective tool for physicians to stay on top of the latest medical news and engage patient in a professional and meaningful way.
Something as simple as a booklet or a webpage that lists all ASCO social media resources and easy-to-follow tips and guidance may greatly help participants who are not familiar with social media to quickly get started and experience the benefits of these emerging tools.
Making tweets more relevant
A steady flow of tweets is necessary to maintain an active online community and raise awareness. But too many tweets can be overwhelming and distracting. When meaningful information and individual opinions are buried, it contradicts with the purpose of having Twitter as a communication channel for open dialogues.
I believe I was not the only person who felt there were moments when it was difficult to keep up with #ASCO13 tweets because too many of them were being issued at the same time. Since Twitter is an open platform, it is impossible to control how people tweet. However, some simple tactics that curate social media content may be helpful to distill relevant information from Twitter. Below are two examples:
1. Sub-hashtags: sub-hashtags that aggregate specific topics at ASCO help users to receive the most relevant information. For example, #ASCO13Lung can be used for all lung cancer-related conversations and #ASCO13Imm can be used for tweets focused on immunotherapies. “Sub-hashtags” can be announced in advance as well as during the meeting when popular topics are trending.
2. Featured Tweets: Although Twitter facilitates open dialogue, we do value accurate information and insightful perspectives. For those who consistently provide such content, they deserve greater exposure from ASCO. This year, ASCO has featured select tweets on ASCO Connection, the organization’s HCP social networking site. It would be nice to see more carefully and timely select tweets across ASCO’s online assets such as the home page of the annual meeting.
A stronger patient presence
As the healthcare system moves to a patient-centered and outcome-driven model, physicians should take every opportunity to educate and motivate patients, encouraging them to take actions that can positively affect their outcomes. Although the ASCO Annual Meeting is primarily an HCP event, it can be a great opportunity for patient education and motivation. What can be more powerful to convince a patient to participate in a clinic trial than showing him or her someone with the same condition lived 5-year longer than those treated only with standard of care?
Social media offers unique capability to engage patients in an interactive way. A tweet, a sharable video or an e-newsletter can generate ripple effects among the patient community. ASCO’s patient portal Cancer.net has been doing an amazing job getting the most important updates from the annual meeting to the patient community via multiple social media channels. But other ASCO stakeholders–physicians, policy makers and pharma companies should also join the movement by developing patient-friendly social media content.
Exploring new tools
Besides Twitter, there have been other social media tools that may offer additional features to engage an even broader audience.
For example, Vine, the mobile application developed by Twitter that records 6-second long video may be an appropriate channel for patient engagement (UCLA Hospital has recently used Vine to document a surgery and received a lot of positive feedback). Additionally, live video streaming tools such as Google Hangout have great potential for both patients and professionals to break geographic barriers and collaborate online. Imagine anyone who is interested in the ASCO Annual Meeting can watch live videos from Chicago anywhere in the world. Would that be cool?
As a community, we are experiencing some of the most important changes in modern medicines. The 16,000 #ASCO13 tweets is just a tiny portion of the changes that are reshaping the landscape of medical research and public health globally. What come with the changes are tremendous opportunities to make a concrete impact on all fronts. The 2013 ASCO may be coming to an end, but let’s keep the online conversations going and explore these opportunities together.
Thank you, ASCO, for supporting the Twitter version of the meeting so people like me who don’t have a ticket to Chicago can still be a part of the exciting conversations of cancer research. Looking forward to #ASCO14!