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Does Pharma “Like” Social Media?

Greg Kirsch

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“Michigan Supreme Court Campaign Credits Facebook Ads With Margin of Victory” screamed the headline on a recent article.

Turns out a Michigan candidate spent half of her budget on Facebook ads in the five days before the 2012 election. The campaign notes that, while other efforts helped, Facebook ultimately moved the needle. In the article, Josh Koster, managing partner of Chong & Koster, is quoted as saying,“[It’s] the only thing that could have moved her to being ahead of everyone else from being tied with everyone else.”

Experts believe social media also played a big role in President Obama’s reelection. Look at the disparity between Facebook and Twitter followers between the candidates. (The President also had over 200,000 more YouTube views than the Governor did.)


But Does Pharma Like Social Media?

In 2012, PwC Health Research Institute quantified the influence of social for healthcare in a study titled, “Social media “likes” healthcare: From marketing to social business.”

The findings from the HRI report are hard to ignore:

—42% of consumers have used social media to access health-related consumer reviews ... Nearly 30% have supported a health cause, 25% have posted about their health experience, and 20% have joined a health forum or community.

Yet according to the study, “fewer than one in three pharmaceutical companies— have walls available for individuals to initiate posts.” Clearly, there are social media challenges for pharma. With little regulatory guidance, and a high environment of perceived risk, many pharma companies avoid social media totally.

But those that do employ social media are absolutely connecting with patients. The study examined the number and sentiment of pharma interactions during a typical week. They found the interactions were “high-quality touch points between organizations and consumers.” Despite concerns that social media triggers negativity, negative comments comprised only 6% of comments — half the number of positive comments.

Source: HRI Week in the life of Analysis, 2012

No Risk, No Return

So we know of social media’s tremendous ability to connect. We know people are comfortable engaging with social media for health information. We also know, two-thirds of pharma companies avoid engaging with social media. How can we solve the dilemma?

At the very least, pharma can monitor social media conversations about products or problems on community sites. Use the intelligence you gather for marketing decisions (such as your content strategy), to identify advocates or to respond to unhappy patients offline. Patients who experience a problem are likely to spread positive word of mouth about the brand if the problem is satisfactorily resolved.

Let’s say you want to interact with patients on Facebook but want to avoid the risk of unpredictable user-generated content. Consider a tool like PharmaWall. PharmaWall allows your Facebook page visitors to post and comment on posts. But instead of instantly publishing to Facebook, PharmaWall allows you first to review the post. Then the Facebook manager can accept, revise or delete the post and follow-up with the poster accordingly.

Thirdly, some pharma companies open pages up to comments but assign a full-time administrator to monitor them continuously. If someone posts content that causes concern (such as an off-lable statement), the administrator removes it immediately, thereby minimizing risk.

Bottom line: Pharma cannot ignore the power of social media to connect and influence online. With a little forethought, marketers can harness its power and engage with patients while avoiding risk.


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