My team at the Massachusetts Medical Society has been working on social media technologies for more than two years. In March ’07, we launched our own social network, for members only.
Our results have been OK, but have not matched our hopes. So when we started to do a re-set of our social media strategy and program, we wondered: Were our shortcomings rooted in our strategy, our execution, or our markets? It may be a combination of all three, but which combination? How should we focus our work?
When the book Groundswell unveiled a smart, simple planning model this past spring, we jumped all over it. Authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff say you need to start by learning if your markets (members) are actually using social media. In other words, are there any fish in the pond where you want to fish?
We bought a license for a one-time use of Forrester’s survey instrument to learn where our people are playing in the social media world. Forrester’s people studied the results and scored our members on their social technographic profile ladder (see image). Here’s what we learned.
These percentages reflect the MMS members who engage in the activities in those profiles at least once a month.
Now, look at how they compare to Forrester’s survey of all US adults in 2007 (see chart).
This was mind blowing! This survey obliterated most preconceptions we had of a technophobic, conservative membership. Our members use the social media tools at least as frequently as the general public. While these percentages are relatively small in an absolute sense, they have been robust enough to fuel the worldwide social technology engine today.
Below the top line numbers in our survey, there were even more interesting findings:
Members from 25 to 34 are “creators” 38% less frequently than US adults in the same age group. This was a shock. While it could be sampling error, we didn’t think so. We suspect this is because medical students and residents have almost no free time, compared to others in their age group. Residents, for example, average about 80 hours per week on the job. Not many young professionals toil under that kind of workload.
This could be a challenge for us, because folks under 40 are the great engine of the social media world. They create most of the content. So that could be a problem for our efforts.
However, we also learned that our 25-34 year old members are very active in social networks. They are “joiners” 50% more frequently than their peers among the general public. So that’s how they use social media, and that’s where we should fish. We will focus on our social technology efforts on young physicians in online communities.
Next observation: Though smaller in numbers, older physicians are much more willing to experiment in the social media space than other 45+ adults in the US. That’s important, because our median member age is about 50. There is one important exception to this finding – online communities. Starting at age 40, our members’ use of online communities falls off the cliff (see chart). But as Facebook grows, that distinction may also change.
Two more areas where our members participate much more frequently than the average US adult:
- RSS feeds. They use iGoogle, MyYahoo and other widgets, a lot. So we will exploit the living daylights out of inbound and outbound RSS when we launch our new website early next year.
- Ratings and reviews. They read and post ratings and reviews well above national averages. In Forrester’s strategy model, ratings and review could help drive our sales of online education courses, because everyone trusts their peers’ judgment.
It’s clear. Social media technologies can help MMS achieve our objectives and fulfill our mission. Now it’s up to us to plan it right, promote it well, and manage it smartly. (No more excuses. Gulp.)
So I wonder: If our conservative, cautious doctors are ready for it, maybe your people are ready too.