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Doctors use word of mouth to learn about new drugs

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Viral marketing is all the rage these days, so it is only natural to use graphs to analyze social networks in viral marketing.  Afterall, viral marketing depends on a graph, the social graph.  Sponsored by a phamarmaceutical firm, three professors, two at Wharton and one at USC, followed a set of doctors and their prescription habits. 

They applied a social networking perspective, creating “links” (edges) between doctors based on patient referrals and self-reported conversations.   They found a particular physican (184) that was operating under the radar but bridged two sub-networks of doctors, thereby facilitating the spread of the drug in question. 

Three things are things interesting.  One, the data collection was done via manual surveys, thus leading to a scalability issue.  It will be difficult to reach sufficient prescribers at a low enough cost to justify such analysis.  An alternative is to use publicly available data such as the NCBI database PubMed or Google Scholar to constuct the underlying relationships between prescribers.  It is likely that additional variables such as geographical and institutional closeness will be required to improve the accuracy of the data.

Secondly, the analysis was done using standard graph techniques but the identification of 184 was done via visualization and inspection.  Again, how will this scale when you have hundreds of thousands of prescribers?  To scale up, a numeric score would have to be used to differentiate these key opinion and diffusion leaders.  Then a programmatic scoring system will be able to perform such analysis very quickly and in a cost-effective manner.

Third, it seemed like the social network graph data provide similar, yet complementary, results to standard sociometric and demographic analysis.  Graph based analysis cannot completely replace traditional methods, but can definitely complement them. 

So what?

Identifying key diffusion nodes and hubs allows a pharmaceutical firm to focus their marketing activities better.  This type of marketing methodology can apply to any type of products that are distributed by a bona-fide professions.  Examples include medical devices (doctors), investment products (financial advisors), new building materials (architects, general contractors).

Reference

The Buzz Starts Here: Finding the First Mouth for Word-of-Mouth Marketing http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2170

 

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