Posted in social spotlight

Social Spotlight: Nora Cutcliffe

This week’s interview shines a spotlight on the work of BioPharma Consultant, Dr Nora Cutcliffe.

One of the many things that delight me about this series of interviews is when interviewees come back and tell me they enjoyed the exercise of reflecting on why they use social media.  Nora is one of those for whom this process was a chance to reflect and she came back to me with so many rich insights, that for the first time, I’m splitting an interview into two parts.

After working for a decade with a biotech company (Hemosol Inc.) in Toronto, Canada, Nora has been freelancing as a consultant in the field of Biologics for over 15 years. In this first part, I ask Nora about the role social media plays in her work and she shares some tips on getting the most out of Twitter and LinkedIn.


Hi, Nora, I’m excited to have you share your social media story with us today. I know you have many thoughts, so let’s get started right away.

NC: First, I want to say right out of the starting blocks that you, Marie, have been such a powerhouse of knowledge, skill and generosity of spirit in sharing your social media talents – and I’m indebted to you for these gifts! You’re an inspiration to all those in the health care social media (#HCSM) space, and I feel honoured that you’ve invited me to do this interview.

Oh, I’m blushing now. And it’s also true that you have been very generous in sharing information with me, for which I too am most grateful. Can you tell us something about the role that social media plays in your work?

For the past 10 years, I’ve focused exclusively on vaccines and immunization, primarily as a medical writer. I use social media to keep up-to-date as a subject matter expert, and also to share resources with immunization experts, pharmacists and other health care providers, as well as health-related organizations.

To walk you through to the core of my current interests and future direction, if you can picture two overlapping circles (as for a Venn diagram), then the first circle would be pharmacy practice – this field is rapidly expanding its scope in the areas of immunization, smoking cessation, management of hypertension and treating minor ailments, while facing challenges in deprescribing and overuse of opioids, to name a few relatively new specialties.

The second circle would be the field of immunization, which involves vaccine access and delivery by multi-disciplinary health care providers (HCP), all of whom can help increase vaccine coverage. The intersection of these two circles would then include trained pharmacists who offer immunization services (i.e. “Pharmacists-as-Immunizers”, PAI), or alternatively, it could be described as the subset of vaccine delivery that is handled through pharmacies.

That’s really interesting. This is the first time I’ve come across the role of “Pharmacists-as-Immunizers”, can you expand on this for us?

NC: While the concept of Pharmacy-Based Immunization Services is a newly burgeoning field in academia in its own right, I see this area as a current gap in the literature and likewise on social media. Researchers tend to publish in one camp (circle) or the other, often without setting the data in the context of the broader landscape.

Also, it appears that some vaccinators (e.g. MDs, RNs, public health providers, and pharmacists) are still relatively “in the dark” regarding each other’s contribution and/or challenges, and some providers may not function with the mindset that they’re all part of the same team.

So I strongly agree with a key message put forward by @DrVivienBrown, who states that “Immunization is a team sport” – and she also emphasizes that participation is required by both immunizers and patients, as advocates for themselves. While Dr. Brown has focused on Canada, these are common themes on health agendas in other developed countries.

Given this situation, my topline goal for using social media is to help health care professionals and policy-makers become more aware of the research and evidence to demonstrate that PAI are already “moving the dial” towards greater vaccination coverage, particularly for adults.

It sounds to me as if you are a pioneering voice in taking this discussion online. What kind of things are you posting to spread this key message?

NC: In addition to sharing reports describing the progress being made by PAI (in targeting other HC professionals), I also post resources targeting PAI themselves, to help them keep abreast of changes in vaccine market access, etc. For example, I like to share updates on new vaccines being approved and/or publicly funded for specific age cohorts across Canada’s provinces and territories (such as new flu vaccines tailored specifically for adults over 65 years; the new recombinant shingles vaccine; and the 13-valent pneumococcal vaccine).

Whether these new vaccines are publicly funded, or available only on the private market, they are being requested more frequently at the pharmacy by the general public. Since pharmacists are positioned as highly accessible HCPs who can educate patients with up-to-date information, they need to stay nimble and constantly update their reference tools. So that’s what I hope to contribute – and to support PAI consultations with patients that lead to informed decision-making on immunization.

This year I’m excited to be working on several manuscripts with a team from the University of  Waterloo School of Pharmacy – a group that also has a strong digital footprint on several platforms (e.g. Pharmacy 5in5; @UWPharmacy; and @open_pharmacy). Together with a small group of pharmacists across Canada, we’re planning to produce a series of approximately 8 papers on the topic of PAI, to be published in a special issue of the Canadian Pharmacists Journal (CPJ) in 2019.

A selection of Nora’s recent publications in Immunization

So this is a fascinating project for me, in which my client work will align almost perfectly with my interests on SM/Twitter, and some of my new Twitter contacts will become my working team. In this case, since the CPJ journal is in the public domain, we’ll be able to share the final deliverable(s) widely on Twitter, LinkedIn, and potentially other channels.

I love this! It reminds me of a quote from Frederick Buechner – “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”

So now, take us back to when you first started using social media – what prompted you to get started?

NC: I’ve been using LinkedIn for more than 10 years in tandem with growing my consulting business, and I started dabbling with Twitter and Instagram more recently, in 2016. I was initially motivated to use Instagram and Twitter @NoraCutcliffe as part of my volunteer role as Co-Captain of Advertising for the massive annual Flea Market at Kingsway-Lambton United Church, which has generated over a million dollars in proceeds for charity since its inception several decades ago.

I then realized I could easily transfer my social media skills & tools to my ‘day job’ as a medical writer, both to facilitate access to the latest research and news items, and to increase my visibility across my target client base through my own posts. In general, I also wanted to become more digitally literate, and take the opportunity to apply my career experience in immunization in new ways that could continue to grow/expand into the foreseeable future.

A great turning point came for me when I attended a terrific breakfast session in mid-2016, hosted by the Ontario Pharmaceutical Marketing Association (OPMA), entitled “Harnessing the Power of Social Media Marketing in Pharma”. One of the workshop panelists was Yaz Maziar, Senior Director, Marketing & Communications, Prostate Cancer Canada, who is a fabulous role model for wildy successful Twitter awareness campaigns – and from whom I continue to learn as I’ve followed him @ProstateCancerC ever since.

Among other lessons learned that day, I had two key takeaways from that workshop on HCSM. First, as a sector, health care lags behind other sectors, in terms of social media utilization and savvy, so there is enormous potential for future progress. And second, on a more practical “how to” level, I learned that one of the best ways to build a base of followers, say on Twitter, is to simply dive in and consistently post accurate content, building your reputation as a reliable source of timely, useful information. In those early days, Marie, I must reiterate what a tremendous font of knowledge and guidance you were for me – in leading by example, and demonstrating how to become a more competent Twitter user!

Blushing again 🙂 As you know I’m a Twitter evangelist and I love to see how people use it for good. How does Twitter fit into your marketing mix?

NC: My main marketing strategy is to attend conferences to keep acquainted with old contacts and constantly develop new relationships. I feel I’m in a very fortunate position to have more potential work than I can reasonably handle, so I can select projects while declining others. So at this point, I don’t devote any budget to SM activities. However, this may change, with many things on my list to learn, including better use of Twitter (or other) analytics, Twitter lists and surveys, to name a few.

I would also love to test the waters with using Twitter for ‘crowd sourcing’ of data or opinions, as you did, Marie, when you created your article on “How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper”. I was totally intrigued to see how efficiently you requested input across your Twitter base, compiled replies (including my own), and published this piece!

Nora & colleagues at Holiday Reception @BioSciencePEI (PEI BioAlliance, promoting the growth of the BioTechnology sector in Prince Edward Island, Canada)

While Twitter is the mainstay for most of my posts, I routinely check LinkedIn for content posted by my connections. I rarely use Instagram, except in my volunteer role with the church Flea Market as mentioned above. Since joining Twitter, I’ve also created several “Twitter Moments” to capture conference or other event highlights. In addition, I really enjoyed using the Storify platform and its ability to consolidate posts across various SM platforms (e.g. from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) all into one ‘Story’. So after learning how to use Storify based on your online tools posted @JBBC, I was really disappointed to see this platform was discontinued in 2018.

I really like that aspect of using Twitter to curate conference highlights and I too miss Storify greatly. Twitter Moments, while not as good, is still an effective curation tool.  Can you tell us some more about your audience on Twitter?

NC: Currently, I have a very modest number of Twitter followers, but in keeping with my client work, many of my followers are organizations, on both the pharmacy side (including provincial and national pharmacy associations) and pertaining to immunization (including national/provincial public health, research and advocacy groups). The upside of this situation is that a single RT of one of my posts by one of these organizations can have a great reach, across their large membership base(s). Occasionally, even with just 4 or 5 RTs, one of my tweets may reach 20-50K followers, which is quite gratifying for me. In general however, my goal is to increase impact, rather than absolute number of followers.

You’ve hit the nail on the Twitter head here Nora. One of the most powerful things about Twitter is this network effect – the exponential reach of a single tweet. How about health-related Twitter chats? Do you take part in any?

NC: Overall, I consider myself a neophyte on SM. To date, I haven’t contributed to Twitter chats per se, but I have participated in several Twitter campaigns to support advocacy months/weeks/days on both pharmacy and immunization topics.

What I like most about Twitter is that it keeps me up to date, as the single best and most timely source of information in my areas of interest. A second big attraction for me is that tweeting is the antithesis of creating lengthy, confidential reports that I typically develop for consulting assignments. On Twitter, I can quickly share URL links to many resources (including some of those I use in compiling client deliverables), and voilà – instant gratification!

It’s a fun challenge for me to keep within the allotted 280 characters, and a very different reward system in my brain compared to sending out to a client my bread-and-butter “long form content”, a new buzzword I learned recently from you Marie, @JBBC!

Thirdly, wearing my consulting hat as a knowledge broker, it’s important for me to keep an excellent paper trail to retrieve key data that I want to reference later on. Recently, I realised that when I post an update as a Tweet, I’m more likely to remember the data and source – or in other words, “I tweet, therefore I remember”. This may be because I’ve taken a few brief moments to process the info, and repackage it for others. So to some extent, my Twitter feed doubles as a progressive reference library for my own use as well.

Now that’s a super idea. I tend to do the same thing through favoriting tweets. I know you’re also active on LinkedIn. Tell us some more about how that works for you.

NC: I haven’t yet posted any content re pharmacy-based immunization on LinkedIn since my network is much broader (500+ lifetime career contacts) and not many of these folks would be interested in this specific niche area. However, I love that LinkedIn allows me to automatically stay connected with colleagues who move to new positions (which happens constantly in health care), and it’s the perfect opportunity to send “Congratulations” and stay in touch.

Also, since my work involves a lot of teleconferences (TCs) with groups of up to 10 people, another benefit of LinkedIn is that I can look up new contacts prior to ‘meeting’ them by phone, even if we are not yet “linked”. I like to check out research interests and see if I have any contacts in common with new colleagues. If I mention specific publications or contacts during a first TC, this creates an instant connection, and I find that to be very powerful.

Even seeing a LinkedIn profile with photo – to get a sense of character and personal style – is helpful in identifying new voices and understanding team dynamics during a fast-paced phone call. This can be especially important when I need to hastily distill action points for myself and/or other TC participants before winding up the call. Then, immediately following a TC, I send invitations to connect on LinkedIn, while the discussion is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Another note on LinkedIn is that after using this platform for several years, I attended a very inspiring workshop in 2017, as led by Ross McPherson, targeting Oxford alumni living in the Toronto area. One excellent piece of advice Ross gave us, among many other tips, was to ensure that you review the format of your LinkedIn profile on your cell phone before finalizing new edits. He underscored the fact that your ‘Headline’ (the blurb that appears immediately under your name) has capacity for 100-odd characters, and this should be used optimally to market yourself. Note that your ‘Headline’ is different from the longer ‘Summary’, which is truncated on the cell phone display. To be blunt, some browsers may never read beyond a brief Headline, so be sure to nail this one upfront!

I also want to mention Jade Pluck as a terrific expert on using the LinkedIn platform. In early 2017, Jade graciously and efficiently guided me (via online messages) through what I needed to know to maneuver through the new user interface that was being rolled out that time. I would highly recommend her training videos and/or services for those looking to improve proficiency on LinkedIn.

Nora, this has been a fascinating discussion – but we’re not done yet. Join me next time for Part 2 of this interview.

Until then, you can follow Nora on Twitter @NoraCutcliffe and connect with her on LinkedIn.

This post is part of an ongoing conversation that explores how patients, healthcare professionals, and researchers use social media to communicate their work. For more interviews, click here

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