The Social Oncology Project 2016: Hashtag Communities

Download The Social Oncology Project 2016 here.

Today, we’re releasing the fourth version of our annual report, The Social Oncology Project, a comprehensive review of conversations about oncology happening on publicly facing social media.

Before I note some of the lessons we learned from this year’s report, I wanted to flag how the lessons we’ve learned over the previous three years colored our approach. Our initial impulse in surveying the online landscape was to understand WHAT was being said about cancer. That helped us better understand the ebbs and flows of topics discussed online and impressed us with the pure volume of conversations.

But what we found was that trying to make sense of every last tweet about cancer could be misleading. We found a lot of tweets, but there was a lot of low-value conversation. It was difficult to draw firm conclusions about WHAT was being said without knowing WHO was talking.

So this year, we’ve boosted the signal-to-noise ratio by looking at four specific groups of online influencers who have demonstrated influence and high-quality discussions: doctors, advocates, patients and media. Though the lines between these groups are not always bright, categorizing online voices with more precision offers a more complete picture of what is truly happening in social oncology.

By looking at these four groups, across five different cancer types and two specific topics (immunotherapy and value in cancer care), we’ve gleaned four key truths about the state of the online oncology conversation:

  • Connections > Volume. For every cancer we assessed, we plotted a network graph, showing how every member of the community was connected to every other. What we found was that it wasn’t always the person posting the most that had the most influence: it was the individual whose network knit together the more diverse coalition.
  • Video is King. We also looked at thousands of links shared within hashtag communities. And despite the fact that oncology is not necessarily a visually-driven medium, we saw YouTube emerge time and time again as a site that was frequently shared, especially by patient and advocates. In a world in which we all have video cameras in our pocket, video will only play a larger role in communication around oncology.
  • News Doesn’t Drive Education. When hashtag communities look for new information, they tended to either go right to the source (peer-reviewed publications) or vetted medical information from the government or large cancer centers. News stories drive relative few conversations, suggesting that what’s new isn’t necessarily what is important, especially for clinicians and patients.
  • Doctors Serve as a Bridge to Information. Physicians in the network, across nearly every subject we analyzed, were unique in that they pushed peer-reviewed data out across the network, not watered-down summaries of research. Navigating the scientific literature can be hard—not because non-physicians can’t understand it, but because separating wheat from chaff is not always straightforward—and by directing attention to key papers, physicians play a vital role.

All of this may beg the question of what’s next. Our conversations with thought leaders—some of which are included in the report and some of which will appear on the blog in the days to come—suggest that the next big thing is smaller conversations. Though large, hashtag-driven discussions are not a part of the fabric of online conversations, we’re hearing more about the way that smaller communities can come together for information exchange in private messages, closed Facebook groups or crowdfunding platforms.

While network size will continue to be factor in making sure that the right people find each other, we look forward to exploring a future in which a kaleidoscope of small, interlocked groups drive social oncology to new places.

Download The Social Oncology Project 2016 here

TheSocialOncologyReport-Cover-HiRes

Brian Reid
Brian Reid

What we're saying in our blog

Pre-ASH 2017 Excitement Builds!
A Quick Look at Blockchain in Healthcare