Starting in 2013, my colleagues and I have published an annual report called The Social Oncology Project. The past two years, we have looked across all digital communications and surfaced literally millions of online conversations that mention cancer. The results were heady proof that there was substantial discussion about cancer happening online.
The Social Oncology Project 2015: Understanding the Ecosystem
But as we thought about The Social Oncology Project 2015, we realized that aggregating millions of cancer conversations was a more empty exercise. Not all voices in the online ecosystem are the same, and merely surfing though a digital tidal wave of information, tallying mentions, taught us little about who was having those conversations.
This year, we tried a different tack. The first part of this year’s report focuses on one specific subset of the conversation: doctors. Through our MDigitalLife database, we know which conversations online are coming from verified, practicing physicians. And while medical professionals make up a minority of the online population, their voices carry particular resonance.
The second part of the report looks at the way that the physician community intersects with other communities we have begun to define: the patient community, the media community, industry and advocacy communities. That offers another level of richness and takes us further away from a focus on brute volume. It’s fascinating to note those individuals who have outsized impact on a given community and a margin impact on another. Take Naoto Ueno from MD Anderson: he’s a veritable online rockstar among his peers and digitally savvy patients, but he’s almost entirely off the radar of the media.
Understanding how information flows–or doesn’t flow–among these communities is critically important, especially to communicators. We live in a world of information overload, and we are using more and more filters, conscious and unconscious, to deal with that overload. The Social Oncology Project, for the first time, has begun to map out one of the most important filters of all: who we listen to and who we engage with. This is a crucial first step, and we hope that it will help to understand the most effective ways to communicate about public health.
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