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Social media in medical publishing: helpful or hype?

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When used to best effect, social media provides an important forum for scientific exchange and debate and can broaden the reach of a medical publication. Yet there are many challenges facing authors and medical publication professionals when navigating social media platforms. These are discussed by Chang et al (Complete HealthVizion) in an article in the MAP newsletter, from the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP), and in a recent MedComms Networking webinar.

In the article, the authors point to the transition of social media from recreation to the professional setting. Social media represents a valuable opportunity for authors and researchers to reach a wider audience with their medical publications. This can be as simple as sharing a link to a published journal article via social media, or can be an opportunity to use these more visual platforms to share features such as video abstracts or infographics. The importance of capturing social media activity when measuring publication impact is reflected in the use of alternative readership metrics such as Altmetrics and PlumX.

As well as facilitating the “frictionless sharing of information”, social media is a powerful measure of the public level of interest in research.

This can reveal which audiences are being reached, which voices are expressing an opinion, how the data are being responded to, the questions being raised, and any gaps in medical education.

Chang et al also recognise that social media has its limitations and cannot replace the robustness of peer reviewed comment and response. With no arbiter, there is no guarantee of fair balance or accuracy. The need for attention-grabbing brevity risks leaving out vital context, and oversimplification is an identified litigation risk for pharmaceutical companies. There is also fear that engaging with social media could be perceived as overpromotion. To address these concerns, the US Food and Drug Administration has published guidance on the use of social media by pharmaceutical companies.

Research suggests quality is key and that who is posting on social media, as well as what is posted, is important. A randomised trial assessing the impact of social media posts found that the most impactful Twitter activity is that posted by journals in conjunction with article publication. Chang et al also highlight the importance of timing, and of a coordinated approach. An optimal strategy is likely to be social media activity, alongside other media such as blog posts and posts on news feeds, timed for soon after article publication.

Monitoring social media could potentially unlock valuable insight into the impact and reach of medical communications and publications; it is the role of medical publication professionals to help tap this potential. It is suggested that this could include assisting clients and authors by having a thorough understanding of journal policies on social media presence and by monitoring social media dialogue, ready to highlight if misinformation arises.


Summary by Julianna Solomons PhD, CMPP from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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