Weber study urges pharma brands to try social media

NEW YORK: Pharmaceutical companies that are not taking advantage of social and digital channels are missing a major opportunity to reach consumers searching for healthcare information, according to a study from Weber Shandwick.

NEW YORK: Pharmaceutical companies that are not taking advantage of social and digital channels are missing a major opportunity to reach consumers searching for healthcare information, according to a study from Weber Shandwick.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of online US adults have looked for health information on the Web in the past year, according to the Digital Health: Building Social Confidence in Pharma study. The report highlighted how global pharmaceutical companies are using social media in their external communications despite a lack of regulatory guidance from governments around the world.

“Pharmaceutical companies can't ignore digital and social tools anymore,” said Stacey Bernstein, SVP and director of US digital health at the firm. “They have to be a part of the conversation, so they are taking more risk, and while they are starting small, at least they are stating somewhere.”

The Interpublic Group firm found that companies are trying different methods to use social without drawing the ire of regulators. In the US, for instance, companies often create disease-specific, as opposed to brand-specific Facebook pages. Corporations do so because of regulations that say they must make a “good effort” to investigate and report any adverse events to the Food and Drug Administration.

Yet “without clear guidance on what constitutes ‘good effort,' communicators are concerned about the investigative work involved in even a small number of events, especially within a 24-hour reporting requirement,” the report noted.

The downside of unbranded social outreach is that many companies question the return on investment. However, Weber says there are ways for brands to see if they are getting results.  

“If you have a page up targeting young women with a certain type of cancer, and it's out there [in other channels] that your drug has the better side-effect profile, that's going to lead to the product gaining market share,” said Laura Schoen, global healthcare practice chair at Weber.

Financial return aside, the Weber study found that pharma communicators are increasingly recognizing that listening to patient communities via these channels provides a powerful benefit. The insights that can be gained through monitoring and assessing social media postings is akin to participating in a 24-7 focus group at a fraction of the cost, according to the study.

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