Social Network Usage Among Physicians is Soaring

Photo by TwOsE, via FlickrA year ago, our medical society was one of the first associations to privately license Forrester Research’s survey tool to determine the social technographics profile of our membership, physicians in Massachusetts. Review last year’s findings here.

A key takeaway last year was that physicians are definitely part of the social media world. They weren’t leading the pack by any means, but they use social media tools at least as frequently as their peers in their group – and sometimes more often.

Given the explosion of social media tools in the past year, we thought it was already time to refresh the data and invest in another survey using Forrester’s tool. In late June, we sent an e-mail survey to a large cross section of our membership. This year’s sample was much more robust, with nearly 800 members responding, compared to the 522 who answered the same survey a year ago.

Key takeaways

  • Our physicians are still strong consumers of social media content, even relative to the general public. “Spectators” account for 74% of our membership, almost exactly equal to the proportion of the US adult population.
  • “Creators” are still under-represented among our members, even among our younger physicians. “Creators” are the people who write blogs, upload photos and videos, and so forth. In the general US population, the creating class comes from the young. But only 12% of our members 25 to 34 were “creators,” compared to 19% of US adults in the same age group. A year ago, I speculated that the chief reason was time – the lack of it. I still think that’s true. Our young members age 25 to 34 are medical students and residents, and are among most time-starved of any young professional group. But they do consume the content by the bushel — only 5% of this group is considered “inactive.”
  • Physicians’ use of social networks – as a specific social media tool – is growing very, very fast. Thirty-two percent of members were classified as joiners – those who use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks. That is just a shade under the US adult population of 35%. Last year, 21% were Joiners. (Learn the definitions of Forrester’s social technographic “ladder” in an online slide show.)
  • The percentage of those who visit social networks rose 50%. Among physicians age 45 to 54, 26% visit social networks at least once a month, triple the number from a year ago.
  • The number of those who maintain a social network site rose 60% for all members, doubled among physicians 35 to 44 and tripled for those 45 to 54.

Conclusions

A year ago, the case for focusing on social networks rested mostly on our younger members. This year, there’s a critical mass for online networks among every age group, even those over 55. Given Facebook’s growth since last summer, this may not be surprising. But until we did this survey, it wasn’t clear that this applied to our members. Now, we know that it does.

There is still a strong case for developing RSS feeds, tagging, ratings, reviews, blogs, widgets for portals (iGoogle), video and podcasts. It’s no longer a question of whether there are fish in those ponds – we know there are. Now it’s a question of business and marketing strategy – not if we fish there, but where and when.

One final note

I asked Forrester to add one more question – whether our members use Twitter. Four percent of our total sample uses Twitter regularly – about 8% among those age 25 to 34. Forrester didn’t use the answers to calculate social technographic profiles, but it is a good baseline number for the future nonetheless.

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Digital Now 2009: What Will You Do on Monday?

Digital Now logoDigital Now’s annual conference last week, as always, wonderfully captured the spirit of the association community, and its love/hate affair with technology. There was no need to persuade people that social media will be the media of the future, nor of the idea that social media is the modern expression of the association’s core purpose. That’s been done.

Instead, what arose were two things: The eyewitness experience of the potential of microblogs, and a quiet determination to do social media right.

Let’s rewind a bit.

At Digital Now three years ago, social media was just beginning to leak into the association world. It was intriguing and enticing.

Two years ago, many speakers were singing the praises of blogs, online communities, Second Life, and more. The cool tools were the drug of the day.

A year ago, there was palpable disillusionment. Memorably, one guy said, “We started a social network last year, and the crickets are chirping.”

Clay ShirkyThis year, with the euphoria gone and the hangover eased, there was a new spirit – we have to get this right. Clay Shirky, the keynote speaker on the first day, said that the public doesn’t find technology useful, until it’s technically boring. It’s not about the tools, dude.

He also began the main theme of the weekend when he said that it’s much easier to start small with a good system, and let it grow, than to start with a bad system and try to fix it.

That’s what theme of the weekend was: Go simple. It was repeated again, and again, and again.

For me this has always been difficult. I always want to do things with a splash. I like the idea of the big bang, the serial atta-boys, and so forth. But as I shared with about a dozen attendees at the small session I led, the big bang approach got us a few crickets, some bruises, and the possibility of many lessons learned. One observed, “Sometimes, it comes down to ego.”

He’s right. So simple it will be.

At the same time, the conference created a trap for the attendees. Twitter is the phenomenon of the year, right? This was the weekend that Oprah went into rapture with her first tweet, and singlehandedly slowed Twitter to a frustrating crawl.

Twitter was the wow technology of Digital Now. About a quarter of attendees (including me) tweeted throughout the conference, using #dn09 and #digitalnow. Reading back on the tweets, it’s like reading the transcript of a good baseball game: Long stretches of ordinariness and tedium, punctuated by spontaneous outbursts of spectacular brilliance.

As a whole, Twitter got the job done. Its power to create a community was plainly visible. But the trap is that it creates the temptation run home and recreate this for the folks at home. Wrong. OK, no technology could be simpler. But if you build it, they won’t come – not even for Twitter.

Charlene LiSo how does this become like the “air” of the association? On the final day, the soft-spoken and wise Charlene Li, the co-author of the great social media book “Groundswell,” wrapped it all up.

Her talk was a little about strategy, but mostly about implementation. As she said, this has to relate back to your corporate strategy. She said that when she works with a company, the first things she asks for is the company’s strategic plan. Without that link, social media is a waste of time.

Her four parting points:

1-    Find your revolutionaries, and cultivate the “realist/optimists;” the people who will eagerly try new things but never lose sight of the pragmatic impulse. These people will be your most effective at promoting adoption throughout the organization.
2-    Start really small.
3-    Measure the right things. She didn’t talk about visits, or links, or such. She talked about “net promoter scores,” and “lifetime value” of each of your customers. These get closer to the strategic heart of your business than any clickstream could ever do.
4-    Embrace failure, because it’s a guarantee that you will fail (whew!). Relationships are hard to do right 100% of the time. She pointed out that Walmart failed spectacularly three times before hitting the right note with its blog for merchandise buyers.

Charlene ended with a simple question: “What will you do on Monday?” This brought it all home. Pick one thing to start on Monday, and act on it. This started about 25 different small group discussions that could have lasted for an hour.

The conversation continues. One speaker, Peter Hirshberg of Technorati, reminded us of how recent this whole social media thing is. It was only five years ago that blogs dethroned CBS News. Yet today, as he demonstrated in a video, social media is the air that 12 and 13 years olds breathe. TV is so … old.

It will be like air for associations, too, and soon – if we get it right before our competitors do.