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How social listening can improve patient recruitment and retention


Social media has transformed our daily lives. Just a tap on an app connects us to hundreds of acquaintances, thousands of brands, and millions of strangers around the world. Never before has information been able to travel so fast and gain as much traction. Never before have conversations been able to happen so widely in real-time. And never before have sponsors had such an opportunity to engage with so many people, get real insights into their daily lives, glean their thoughts and feelings, and interact with them on a more personal level. Better patient engagement will forever be something that clinicians and sponsors are striving for. With so many patients ready to engage and speak out on social media, a setting that’s comfortable and convenient, it can be game-changing for patient recruitment and retention strategies for those who are prepared to listen.


Social media: your untapped source of insight

Building any aspect of a clinical research study without addressing it from a patient perspective is detrimental to its success. But to ensure you can consider patients’ needs at every stage (before, during and after your study), you first need to understand what their needs are. While assumptions just won’t cut it, valuable insight can take time and resource to collate. However, the online platforms where people live out their daily lives, freely giving away insight into their behaviour, interests, opinions, wants and needs is right there for the taking. It’s where people are asking questions and having real-time conversations, so why not join in and give them the answers they need?


Interacting with members of specific disease communities in this way boosts your visibility online, helps people see you as a trusted and convenient source of information, and helps build important relationships that will aid clinical trial recruitment. But of course, these conversations are two-way. In return for your interaction and information, you also have the opportunity to ask the questions that will give you those valuable and authentic patient insights that you can then use to inform the decisions you make when putting together your clinical trial.


How social listening can enhance clinical trial design

Get direct access to lifestyle, behaviour & barrier insights

Traditionally, research creates personas based on broad assumptions. But with clinical studies failing due to people not being recruited or retained effectively, traditional patient personas aren’t doing their job. This is where social listening can transform your approach. Social media can provide you with an authentic and more detailed view of your disease community’s lifestyles. And you can use this knowledge to adapt the design of your clinical trial to better suit your patients. For example, if through social media listening you understand that your target population are parents with young children to care for, a study that requires them to spend two days a week at a clinic far from home simply won’t work. By knowing this sort of information before creating the protocol for your clinical trial, you can ensure your design doesn’t present big barriers for your patients.


The best way to understand patients’ unmet needs are to hear people discuss them in an environment they’re happy to speak freely in. By listening to people’s views on things like current therapeutic options, unmet needs, and physical and physiological issues associated with disease management, you’re essentially collecting data that you can apply to your recruitment strategy and study design. Insight into areas where patients’ needs aren’t met gives you the opportunity to be the one to meet them. In areas where information is lacking: provide it. If the volume of information out there is overwhelming: simplify it. If people are finding information misleading or confusing: clarify it. While you’re doing this, you’re building a pool of patients who will be more informed and more receptive when the time comes to recruit for your clinical trial.


Adapt to what you hear for stronger communications

The simple fact is that real people, patients, don’t talk about their conditions in the way that healthcare professionals do. It’s difficult to shake the clinical language you’re so used to speaking in, but it’s a big barrier for patients. It’s alienating, confusing and frustrating. On top of this, often what you believe to be the key messages that will resonate with patients aren’t all that relevant to them. So, to really engage with patients, you need to be speaking in their language and communicating the information that they actually care about. Again, social media listening can guide you in the right direction. Before you, there are endless examples of the terminology and language people use when talking about their condition. And you have the insight into what they care about. So take note of it, and use it to set the tone and the targeting for your recruitment campaign. Truly listening to your target population, and speaking to them in the most relatable way, will increase your chance of meeting those hard-to-hit enrolment targets.


Follow patients’ journeys to improve retention

You’ve achieved what many before haven’t – you’ve successfully recruited participants for your clinical trial. Only during your study, you lose them, and all that time and effort has gone to waste. Somewhere along the way, something has gone wrong; but, social media listening can help you determine the what and the where. Engaging with study participants on social media throughout the study and following their take on the process can highlight any causes for concern and help you address them. Even if not for your current trial, this could be hugely beneficial for future studies. With insight into the key decision points along their journey, you can adapt your design accordingly to improve retention, and keep your participants happy.


Spot the influencers who matter to your patients

Watching the conversations unfold within your disease community, you can identify who has the strongest influence over your target population. Is it other patients? GPs? Thought leaders in the specific disease areas? Discover who your target population trusts and listens to and use their voice to strengthen your patient recruitment campaigns. For example, if particular patient groups are feeling negatively towards doctors they’ve interacted with, a campaign with creative using doctors will likely have an adverse effect. If patients are more trusting in other patients’ experiences, creative campaigns that bring these to life are much more likely to make the connections you need.


It’s time to log on and listen

While the competition to recruit patients to clinical studies is rising, the effectiveness of traditional recruitment tactics is falling, causing costly delays and at worst, fails. The need for a faster and more globally scalable approach to clinical trials is clear, and social intelligence is a key part of the solution. Data collected from social listening allows you to understand what’s truly important to patients and build stronger clinical studies around it. Integrating social media efforts into strategies has become essential to developing impactful therapies that can meet the unmet needs in the patient community. All it requires is something we all can, and should, do: listen.



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