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I was introduced to social listening at a recent meeting. For some, this concept will be old news, but for me, it has opened a world of opportunities, and highlighted how we can see what is in vogue on a given topic and almost ‘read’ people’s minds. We can discover what people are talking about, classify trends, and help to identify any unmet need. Social listening allows the reader to gauge the mood a subject creates, and allows us to notice what is given ‘air time’.
During the meeting, I was shown a slide, which identified what people with metastatic breast cancer discuss and the amount of posts associated with each topic from thousands of posts over the last 10 years. What surprised me was that there were more discussions on pain, as opposed to emotions. I was fascinated. How did people get this data, and more to the point, how can we harness it and use it to translate what is useful to people and establish what we can do to help them most? I was bowled over by the richness and rustic nature of the data – on one side we can see how much ‘space’ each topic gets, yet on the other side, we know little – only what the people posting want us to know.
In the example of the slide, we cannot delve to identify what treatment these people have had, if they have families or how old they are. We also could not identify whether the topics that were most discussed were deemed to be most important, or with the most unmet need – only that the number of comments about some topics were more numerous and associated with more disruption to life.
The example I saw surprised me. I had thought that there would be more comments about the emotions and feelings related to metastatic breast cancer, as I had crudely thought physical effects of the disease may have been alleviated by health professionals or drugs. However, the lion’s share of comments were about pain and the least comments about emotions.
“Social listening is a gift that allows us to identify trends and patterns”
I started thinking about social listening in the wider sense. I had taken part in social listening when ordering something online. I had looked on the website to read reviews of a product prior to buying it – this is social listening. It allows companies to track and analyse what is being said about a brand. I noticed there are variations in feelings, and that as there is no personal interface between people adding to data, they may not feel a need to agree and the data may be more honest. I was only using this f0r research while buying a product, but others will be using and adding to this when researching which hospitals to go to and what treatments to have. Time would play a part in the trends discovered by social listening, which again, would be immensely advantageous for companies and organisations to tap into.
My next mission is to get my hands on more data and see how it can translate into the clinical setting. Our patients are the experts on themselves, so they should be listened to, and this information should, in turn, assist us in developing appropriate, needed, fit-for-purpose services. This type of information will continue to grow. At conferences we are seeing the first few posters of work that contain social listening data and they do not disappoint.
Social listening is a gift that allows us to identify trends and patterns; to find out how strongly that group of people feel about an issue. The data is raw; it cannot be dissected, but it illustrates wonderfully powerful effects and feelings that can guide us in our future strategy.
Victoria Harmer is Macmillan consultant nurse (breast) at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust