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.


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.


The Un-RFP: A Follow-up

Photo by caseywest via flickrA few weeks ago, I discussed how the RFP (request for proposal) had run into disrepute, mostly among consultants and vendors to whom they are targeted. I also discussed how people like me need a good structure to solicit outside help, review their proposals, and make the best decision possible.

A good number of comments followed (thank you!). Definitely, I touched a nerve. I listened to what you all said, and recently issued this “un-RFP” to a number of possible consultants and agencies. I’d be grateful if you’d take a look and share your thoughts.

Currently …

  • The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) has lots of experience and success working with traditional media. But we also know the effectiveness of traditional media is rapidly diminishing.
  • We were one of the earliest medical societies to experiment with social media technologies, starting in March 2007. We appreciate about social media technologies can help us accomplish our goals, and we have learned a lot about how our members use social media technologies.
  • But we don’t know as much about how to implement these tools to produce specific measurable results, nor do we understand very well how to integrate these tools with traditional media. As a result, the success of these experiments has been uneven.
  • MMS plans to launch the first phase of a website upgrade in Q1 2009
    • In Phase 1, the principal enhancements will be in the site’s information architecture, visual design, search, back-end integration, and site analytics
    • In Phase 2 (Q3/Q4 2009), we will introduce agile technological tools (.NET) and upgrade our social media offerings

What we’re looking for …

  • We want someone to shorten our learning curve in social media technologies and show us how to produce results from them.
  • Our focus is in three areas:
    • Advocacy: How do we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to increase our voice and influence in the public conversations about health care policy and clinical issues?
    • Education: How can we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to improve our business results for both live and online continuing medical education programs?
    • Membership: How can we leverage social media technologies with traditional media to improve our ability to a.) strengthen our bond with existing members; and b.) grow our membership levels among practicing physicians in Massachusetts who aren’t yet members?
  • We want a partner who has produced specific measurable business results for customers and clients integrating social and traditional media. Theoreticians without a track record need not apply.

What Success Looks Like …

  • More member activity. Members will find that our social media offerings help them become better doctors and make their membership in the MMS invaluable. They will use these tools frequently, and they will become fervent MMS evangelists to their colleagues.
  • Better business results. More people will register for our live and online medical education programs. We will be more effective in our membership recruitment activities.
  • More influence. MMS physicians will have a more vital and influential voice in the critical health care policy and clinical conversations of the day.


  • Send me a description of you and your company. Tell me about the work you’ve done for yourself and others to employ social media and traditional media to produce specific measureable results. Give yourself enough space to impress us with your expertise. Provide some detail but you don’t have to go crazy.

After that …

  • We’ll review what we get, and get in touch with those who interest us the most. At that point, we will probably ask to meet and talk some more – you’ll learn about us, and we’ll learn about you, and we go from there.

If this interests you, send me your reply by end of business, Feb. 20, 2009.

Four Books that Made a Difference in 2008

Too many good books, too little time.

Many of the books I read are eventually forgettable, but some endure. Here are four business books I read this year that have remained with me.

By Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
These two folks from Forrester Research (Charlene has since moved on to a solo life) wrote the defining social technology strategy book for the year.

Their methods for developing your strategic intent and your audience or organizational readiness are amazing. My copy is already dog-eared. We licensed their survey tool in July, and it provided critical information to developing our approach.

Their fundamental contribution to the world is the Social Technographics Ladder, which identifies peoples’ behavior in their use of social technology better than any before.

It provides far more openings for action than the 90-9-1 rule. Once you have nailed your strategy and your audience’s places in the ladder, then you can define your implementation plan – but only then. Technology choices come LAST.

While this has dozens of great case studies, it is not a detailed how-to book. But after digesting its wisdom, you won’t need them to tell you what to do. You’ll know.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
By Clay Shirky
Like Groundswell, this book is indispensable to those puzzling through the strategic and contextual questions of social technologies. But it also provides compelling specific examples of how social technologies are changing life today.
Plus, it has the single most mind-blowing line of the year: “Every web page is a latent community.”

Secrets of Social Media Marketing
By Paul Gillin
A great tactical book. I finished it only recently, and I suspect it will be dog-eared by the spring. Paul understands the interplay between the social technologies and traditional media.

Perhaps his wisest words are early in the book, where he asserts that social media is not right for every job. And then he explains why. That’s only the start.

By Seth Godin
I understand that Seth isn’t for everybody, but I am definitely a fan. I first consumed this book on my iPod, then ran out to get the paper copy because it is so freaking wise. It inspires, it directs, it cajoles.

To paraphrase one amazing passage:
–    If I don’t persuade you
–    If you don’t learn from me
–    If you do not follow me …

… it’s not your fault. It’s mine.

It might feel better to blame the other guy for the above, but at the end of the day, it makes you a victim and robs you of your power. If you assume from the start that you are responsible for your own life, you can learn from anything – especially failure.

What books made a difference for you this year?

What We Need to Know

The Tree of Knowledge. By Knilram, via Flickr.I saw this post on the ASAE’s communications listserv last week:

“ I would like to hear from other associations on how they are using social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) – Which ones? Benefits? What’s worked?”

Wow … how many days do you have to listen? There’s no bigger question in communications today.

I sense stratification in our professional community. At a panel that I moderated at the ASAE Annual Meeting this summer, it was possible to pick out the genetically encoded early adopters from those who were struggling to catch up. You could almost tell by the body language.

The early adopters were foraging for ways to exploit what they had already mastered. The others were still learning. They seemed frustrated and fearful.

It was demonstration of what Seth Godin meant when he wrote in his new book, Tribes, that the cost of innovating too early is small, compared to the cost of acting too late.

But not everything new today will prove useful tomorrow. I think we can count on that. Since time is our most precious commodity, what must people know today?

That’s the challenge that the Communications Council for ASAE has taken on. We’re updating a document that outlines today’s core competencies in communications. No offense, but the current version, written only a few years ago, is badly  out of date.

Still, the basics are the basics. You gotta know how to write, pitch stories, research your markets, plan campaigns, etc. But of the new social technologies, what is now fundamental? And if you can’t experiment freely, what can you safely observe from a distance, for now?

We’ll take our best guess, because we can only guess at the future. No one on our team is clairvoyant, as far as I know. Maybe through the wisdom of our little crowd, we’ll get it right.

We hope the document will be a career roadmap for new communications professionals, and a learning menu for experienced pros. It will evolve rapidly and often.

We could use your thoughts. Among the new technologies, what is already a must-know? Conversely, if you must choose your experiments carefully, what is OK to watch for a while?

Get Humble: Why You Need to Do User Centered Research

The best websites have an obsessive single focus. They get out of the way and help users meet their goals. If users can’t do what they want, they go away, and you lose. If your users succeed, they win, and you win.

To know what your user’s site goals are, you have to get humble. You have to accept the proposition that you don’t know your users, or your members.

Don’t you know your members? Sure, you work with many of them every day. They call you; you call them. You know their kids’ names, their dog’s name, even where they vacation. But they aren’t your members. They’re your volunteer leaders, and they’re different. Their views of the organization and the website have been distorted by who they are, and what they do. (Same with you.)

Most likely, your site works well enough for your staff and your leaders, despite its flaws. But if you want to expand the appeal of your website (and hence your association), you have to get in the head of the non-committed, the non-leader, or the checkbook member. If you don’t, your new site will serve the same leaders in the same way. You will not make progress. Your site will look like an org chart, or the hobby horse of your most vocal volunteers.

Do the more of the same, get more of the same. Do something different, get something different.

How do you get in their heads? Research.

If you do it well, three things will happen.

  1. Some of your assumptions will be proven right. That’s OK. It means you at least have a clue.
  2. Some of your assumptions will be dead wrong. That’s OK. It means you’re human.
  3. You will be blown away by the unexpected. That’s great! What was once your blind spot is now visible. Now you can do something about it.

Ready to get started? This doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Next post: User-centered website research on a shoestring.