We live in a virtual world, and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the health industry as more and more drug companies undertake pharma social media programs. Pharma social media conversations are having a direct impact on pharmaceutical sales as well as corporate and brand reputations. Every day patients are questioning their treatment options often and making product choices based on online conversations, many of which consist of un-edited and un-qualified user generated content.
With the increased popularity of tools such as Twitter, Facebook and other online communities, patients and their doctors are able to interact with each other, as well as healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies from around the world in real-time. They are doing so in unprecedented numbers. For many patients the first place they seek medical information is online which, in turn, has spawned the rise of pharma social media campaigns.
On the other hand patients are also sharing invaluable information online about their thought processes and behavior. These insights can potentially help all functions of drug development - from R&D to marketing by producing more effective and safer treatments.
To effectively engage in a pharma social media campaign, we offer the following insights:
- Be human. Ensure that you engage with people as people. Explain what you are doing and why, particularly if you are moderating comments.
- Be helpful. Answer questions and link to additional information. Forward inquiries that you can’t answer to others, perhaps to their doctor or your medical information department, with a clear explanation why.
- Avoid jargon. Bear in mind you are talking to people outside your industry.
- Respond quickly. Organize your internal approvals to ensure responses happen within 48 hours.
- Enable comments. Social media – and particularly pharma social media – should be about engagement and discussion.
- Crisis planning. Your pharma social media efforts should include a crisis planning component. You need to plan for how you will respond to negative comments, reposted articles and consumer activists and the like.
While pharma social media might be intimidating for those expected to establish and maintain that presence, it’s worth keeping in mind that these platforms are also great tools for allowing patients – any stakeholders, really – to independently connect with one another and talk about the effect pharmaceuticals are having on their lives. When these connections are fostered by a pharmaceutical company, and backed up with a quality product and good customer service, they create a strong potential for consumer loyalty and positive word of mouth. Ideally, the information derived from dialogue on social media sites can inform the pharmaceutical company’s marketing efforts, or even its research and development process.
As with any corporation-generated social media, the terrain is tricky, and figuring out how to use this powerful tool effectively takes time. Classes, seminars and other resources exist to teach pharmaceutical company representatives how to manage social media presence. To be a contender in today’s marketplace, those efforts are crucial – and they’re likely to reap dividends in the long run.