Understanding and Impacting the Media Landscape
Two new studies came out this week leveraging data from social media to understand the larger media landscape around politics. As health communicators, these studies provide approaches that can help us better reach target audiences around a given topic.
First, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center published “Partisanship, Propaganda, & Disinformation” exploring the 2016 presidential election. By examining the media citations of thousands of Internet users, they identified the media sources that drove the conversation around the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The topline data shows what any casual observer would expect (e.g. – publications such as Breitbart and Fox News are cited by conservatives). But by drilling into the data, we can identify the important role of less prominent outlets and, in this case, which outlets reach bi-partisan audiences.
“Understanding the publications that a given audience engages with allows us to better target outreach”
JPA’s Media Blueprint uses the same basic approach to identify the prominent stakeholders within a given topic or issue and which publications reach target audiences in specific health conversations. For example, our own research (leveraging the tools of our big data partner Graphika) has found that within the cancer conversation, patients and healthcare providers cite different publications. Looking deeper into those audiences we also found that we can identify the difference in citations across sub-audiences such as oncologists and pathologists.
This type of data is key to our approach of reaching highly targeted audiences. Understanding the publications that a given audience engages with allows us to better target outreach as well as contextualize messaging and content to better engage, educate and persuade them.
The second study, published by Northeastern’s Lazer Lab focused on examining the ideological nature of journalists who cover politics through the people that they follow in social media. While examining who journalists follow provides insights into political leanings, analyzing who they follow in healthcare tells a different story. Having been engaged in studying the healthcare media landscape for almost a decade, I point to two trends in analyzing the significance of who they follow:
- Health journalists follow sources by beat (e.g.. – Scientific, Policy, Research, Investment) they cover. While the Northeastern study started with a list of known journalists, our task is often finding the right journalist. Through examining follow behavior across thousands of accounts, we can identify journalists and their beats.
- People using social media professionally follow accounts to help them gather information – including journalists. For example, sometimes we find journalists (usually the best ones) following accounts in a similar pattern to the healthcare providers and/or researchers that they cover rather than that of other journalists. Identifying those journalists allows us to identify ones that are more attuned to a specific audience.
The insights derived from social media analysis, particularly Twitter, has reached a point where it is commonplace to use it to understand the larger media landscape. While experience and relationships with specific journalists continues to be the core of health communications, a deeper understanding of the network of influencer and the audience they reach delivers a stronger, more efficient communications strategy.
Ken Deutsch is an Executive Vice President at JPA Health Communications