Utilize Digital and Social Media Data for Your Research

Workshop Description

Today, over 80 percent of Americans seek health information online and nearly 70 percent of all Internet users in the United States use digital and social media. These numbers are increasing, even among diverse and underserved populations. This trend provides huge opportunities for researchers.

For example, did you know that African Americans have exhibited relatively high levels of Twitter use? Fully 40% of 18-29 year old African Americans who use the Internet say that they use Twitter. Latinos go online from mobile devices and use social networking sites at similar – and sometimes higher – rates than do other Americans. And, around 81% of lower-income Americans say it is "very important" for the library to provide free access to the Internet and computers? (Pew Research Center, 2013, 2014)

Attendees of this workshop will learn how the general public, disease communities, and health care professionals use the Web and social media. They will learn about the potential and limitations of using the resulting ‘digital traces’ to inform their research and how to design data-driven online outreach strategies to achieve their research goals (e.g., engagement, enrollment).

You will also get access to Symplur Signals, an online application that provides more than 500 million healthcare-related tweets and 185 million user profiles from Twitter, all segmented by thousands of healthcare relevant topics.

The Symplur team will offer a free 30-minute explorative consulting session to each participant tailored to how their own research can leverage social media data.



1. Digital and Social Media Data

  • Why use digital and social media as part of your research?
  • Understand how to use social media data in support of research and study participant recruitment
  • Understand how the general public, disease communities, and health care professionals use the Web and social media

2. Data Source: Twitter

  • Understand what Twitter user data is available
  • Understand the anatomy of a Twitter messages (tweet)
  • Analyze research studies that have successfully leveraged digital data

3. Online Data Usage in Research

  • Understand limitations: Protected health information (PHI), de-identification vs. anonymization, online recruitment guidelines, online consent

4. HealthCare Social Media

  • The Healthcare Hashtag Project
  • Understand where and how to find digital and social media data?
  • Limitations of digital data

5. Introduction to Symplur Signals

  • Understand what research questions you can answer using Symplur Signals
  • Learn how to leverage Symplur Signals to analyze over 500 million healthcare social media data points in real time
  • Identify relevant healthcare communities on Twitter and learn how to seek out top influencers of all stakeholder types (providers, patients, etc.)
  • Understand the dynamics of each community from content analysis and network centrality analysis of the relationships

Recommended Reading

Usage of digital and social media

Digital and social data mining

Online Outreach and Participant Recruitment

Ethical issues, FDA guidelines, Online consent


Upon request, participants who complete individual workshops or the entire series will receive a certificate signed by Jonathan M. Samet, MD, MS, Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC, Director, USC Institute for Global Health, Director of the SC CTSI Education, Career Development, and Ethics program, and lead instructor Katja Reuter, PhD, director of Digital Strategy and the eHome program at SC CTSI.

Please bring your computer and your phone. You will need Internet access.

We will introduce several digital and social media measurement and listening tools as well as Symplur Signals.

NIH Funding Acknowledgment: Important - All publications resulting from the utilization of SC CTSI resources are required to credit the SC CTSI grant by including the NIH funding acknowledgment and must comply with the NIH Public Access Policy.