September 13, 2021

3 Emerging Uses of Social Media beyond Passive Listening for MSLs and Medical Affairs

April 12, 2021

3 Emerging Uses of Social Media beyond Passive Listening for MSLs and Medical Affairs


Social media can be used for achieving professional growth, establishing oneself as a thought leader, collaborating with KOLs, to gain and spread medical education, and more. Our blog sums up all these emerging ways MSLs and medical affairs can leverage the power of social media.

On March 12, 2021, LARVOL teamed up with Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) to record a podcast on “Social Media in Medical Affairs: Beyond Passive Listening” as a part of the "Elevate" podcast series. The podcast covered questions related to social listening, compliance, and stakeholder engagement as well as the evolving role of new digital tools and platforms in medical affairs success. The conversation was moderated by Garth Sundem, Communications Director at MAPS, and included Luca Dezzani, Franchise Head Immuno-Oncology, AstraZeneca, and Bruno Larvol, CEO and Founder of LARVOL.

The discussion highlighted several points such as most medical affairs professionals being comfortable with social listening although it is still in exceedingly early stages. Bruno mentioned that the pandemic has accelerated the speed of technology use and many customers are having to explore how to do more than listening, “Right now they are learning how to listen actively, and especially, to use social media to identify opportunities for engagement, for example, at webinars, at symposiums…they are looking at how to engage in a way that would be compliant.”

Another thought that emerged was that currently, the number of KOLs that are active in social media is still a small subset of all KOLs. These KOLs who are active on social channels are being called Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs).

We’ve summarized the key messages from this podcast and enlisted three other emerging uses of social media beyond passive social listening that can be useful for medical affairs and MSLs.

3 emerging uses of social media beyond passive listening

#1 Professional growth & being a thought leader/Attracting talent

There are two angles to this – organizational perspective and individual perspective.

Organizational perspective - Social media offers an amazing opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to establish thought leadership, in medical affairs specifically. Being thought leaders in medical affairs, in particular, is a good way of attracting the right talent and the brightest of minds. 

Individual perspective/personal use – The flip side or the plus side to the above point is that if you’re an MSL looking for career opportunities, it can be really valuable to project yourself as a thought leader in the medical engagement space on social media. 

#2 Possible collaborations with KOLs

Being passionate about a certain topic by being an active thought leader on social media can create opportunities for possible collaborations with KOLs, with KOLs reaching out to the MSLs themselves. An example of this when Luca mentioned is that if an MSL is very active on social media regarding real-world evidence and they constantly produce content on RWE, it's likely that some key opinion leaders and investigators may reach out for a proposal regarding collaboration on RWE because they observe that this MSL is knowledgeable about this topic.

#3 Medical education and leveraging social media machine learning

MSLs and medical affairs can run medical education programs on social media and Twitter in particular. They can also benefit from such content on social media to learn more about their work, and the community.

Medical affairs can address medical education needs more if they leverage the machine-learning algorithm of social media to serve content that is relevant for the stakeholder, in this case, physicians who have educational needs. Luca cited an example of video streaming sites like YouTube or TikTok that currently adapt to the needs of the viewers by having their algorithms learn what they are watching and skipping on the platform. This kind of automation and machine learning is constantly learning what works and what doesn't, a similar principle can be applied to medical affairs.

Important points to note:

#1 Compliance as a major hurdle to move beyond social listening

It is one of the major factors why medical affairs professionals and MSLs are less oriented toward engagement in social media. Medical affairs professionals are not supposed to speak on behalf of the organization unless they have permission to do so. Partnering with legal and compliance colleagues is of tremendous importance since rules and regulations vary across different regions. It is very important to make it clear that the views expressed on social media are personal and do not represent the organization.

In the current landscape, the MSLs and medical affairs are still trying to figure out the right etiquette and the right rules to engage on social channels in a compliant way. Bruno exclaimed, “Sometimes compliance is a bit of an excuse to engage less on social, but it is changing slowly”.

#2 Authenticity

The panelists discussed the value of being authentic on social media and hence progressing from just social listening to actively participating. There could be two approaches to this.

One, compartmentalizing your behavior and content as per the channel it is being posted on, however in no way being unauthentic. Bruno mentioned that the current standards of professionalism are evolving towards unifying the different components of who we are.

Two, projecting yourself as the person you are on all social channels and still staying within the framework of compliance.

#3 Newer tools like ClubHouse

Social media for MSLs and medical affairs is moving beyond passive listening to being active communities. Clubhouse is one of the newer tools with new clubs for pharma in general and medical affairs professionals, in particular, emerging since its launch.

Listen to the podcast below.

Download attached file

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news, updates and high-impact data delivered directly to your inbox.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.