Pharma companies need to join the social media age

Many pharma companies are scared of social media but, believe me, the benefits outweigh the pitfalls.

Antonia Betts: pharma firms should embrace social media
Antonia Betts: pharma firms should embrace social media

Given that the pharma industry is so regulated, it is understandable it has arrived late to social media. Communication has to be approved by regulatory reviewers with strict guidelines. Two-way engagement, direct to consumer and without guidance, requires a leap in thinking.

Only a dinosaur would ignore 1.73 billion social network users worldwide. With only one in five in the UK believing that the industry "cares what people like me think of it", the industry has a chance to raise its standing. So, how can pharma companies make the leap into social media?

It’s not all about brands

Initial resistance was based around the fact the industry cannot promote products direct to the public. But most successful social media promotion isn’t brand specific. Unbranded activity can inform, engage and build a corporate identity.

Adverse event reporting

The obligation to report adverse events is a hurdle. Drug side effects reported must be logged and passed to the authorities. Investment will ensure that channels are diligently monitored. However, the level of reporting is manageable.

The ROI red herring

Many are unconvinced about the ROI. Yet the cost of entry is low, allowing for cost-effective experimentation and pilots to test the utility of different channels. Social analytics, which help define ROI, are clearer than many conventional marketing tools. Although the benefits of engagement may not be quantifiable, it is possible to measure it against objectives and industry benchmarks.

Building corporate reputation

Social media are a valuable source of patient insights into attitudes to disease, treatments and adherence. A corporate social presence can be a great vehicle to share knowledge and initiatives and to increase transparency around operations.

Health conversations

Some 36 per cent seeking health information search online to see what others say about a treatment. Given the accuracy of information, pharma could become more involved here.

Community engagement

Companies are sharing disease awareness and educational content with patient advocacy groups. Others are hosting tweet chats and crowdsourcing initiatives to engage communities around specific disease areas or issues. Some firms invest in global social media and content strategies and are reaping the benefits. The others need to consider whether they want the conversations to continue without them.

Antonia Betts is managing director of Ogilvy Health PR London


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