Social media is a uniquely positioned platform that can spread specific knowledge to a larger audience. Unlike traditional media, it allows anyone to join the conversation, and according to the Pew Research Center, it is here to stay, with 79% of online American adults using Facebook and 24% using Twitter.1
In the oncology world, social media brings together varied perspectives, allowing oncologists, allied health professionals, advocates, patients, and the public to engage and interact with each another. ASCO’s social media presence provides these audiences with the latest news on important cancer research; resources for caregivers; and information about meetings, educational opportunities, and policy and advocacy efforts on several platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
“Social media allows information to be exchanged rapidly and across a wide audience,” said Thomas J. George, Jr, MD, FACP, Associate Professor and Gastrointestinal Oncology Program Director at the University of Florida and a member of ASCO’s Cancer Education Committee. “It has the potential not only to be an enduring form of educational information exchange, but some platforms, like Twitter, allow it to be almost conversational, an important aspect of engagement and learning.”
Why Use Social Media?
In a recent poll of ASCO members, of those who use social media, 74% reported using it to learn about the latest oncology research and 71% reported using it to get live updates from oncology meetings (respondents were able to select multiple answers). Members also expressed an interest in using social media to interact with colleagues (57%), learn about educational resources (62%), and receive updates on relevant policy issues (59%).
Social media plays a large part in ASCO’s meetings and cosponsored symposia, especially on Twitter. Attendees have reported that they tweet during meetings to make notes to themselves, share thoughts with other colleagues, and help bring attention to new and important findings. Those who cannot attend a meeting can follow along on Twitter to see the big takeaways and what their colleagues are excited about in real time and even ask questions or join discussions about meeting content.
Growing Use of Twitter
Posts on Twitter are organized using hashtags—keywords that can be searched to find tweets related to a specific topic or theme. ASCO designates a hashtag for each of its meetings to help streamline discussions; for example, the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting hashtag is #ASCO17.
Usage of these meeting hashtags has seen a huge jump since they first were coined 4 years ago, proving that social media is an increasingly relevant learning tool. At the 2014 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, 328 users sent 1,373 tweets during the meeting; in 2017, 803 users sent 2,058 tweets. The increase was even larger for the Genitourinary Cancers Symposium, which increased from 455 users and 2,141 tweets in 2014 to 1,320 users and 6,650 tweets in 2017. This growth reflects the rising number of oncology professionals on social media, as well as the value of social media in professional education.
To encourage online discussion and ensure that each meeting’s hashtag feed contains accurate and high-quality posts from a variety of perspectives, ASCO selects specific meeting attendees to act as “Featured Voices” on Twitter whom users can choose to follow. These volunteers share meeting updates and their own insights in real time and are a great source for information, which spans the cancer care continuum outside of ASCO meetings as well.
“ASCO’s Featured Voices program is a great resource for those who want on-the-ground coverage of various ASCO meetings,” said Merry Jennifer Markham, MD, FACP, Associate Professor at the University of Florida and a member of ASCO’s Cancer Communications Committee and Social Media Working Group. “For those who are new to Twitter, the Featured Voices serve as an immediate menu of options to choose to follow for curated information and news shared during the meeting.”
Dr. Markham and Dr. George have both served as Featured Voices at several ASCO meetings, but anyone can use a meeting hashtag to follow or join the conversation. “The great thing about social media is that it is a great equalizer of voices, opinions, and perspectives,” said Dr. George. “Everyone has a voice and everyone can contribute, even from their comfy couch, to the conversation.”
For more information and tools for getting started on social media, including special resources like Social Media 101 for Cancer Care Providers and Ten Tips for Use of Social Media, check out ASCO’s resources at www.asco.org/social-media. ■
1. Greenwood S, Perrin A, Duggan M: Social Media Update 2016. Available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/Web. Accessed April 19, 2017.
© 2017. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.