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Pharma-Safe Social Media Channels: Are There Any?

Intouch Team

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For years, pharma marketers have viewed the social media landscape with some trepidation. And rightfully so — so much can go wrong. From reports of adverse events to customer service complaints to mentions of branded products in an unbranded environment, some view the use of social media as a pharma marketing channel as too much of a gamble. Yet, with 73 percent of online adults actively using a social networking site , companies can’t pass up the opportunity to engage with consumers where they already are. Fortunately, with some precautions, pharma companies can safely dip their toes in the social stream.

Assess your risk

When assessing whether or not to engage on a social media platform, pharma marketers need to determine where their company culture fits from a risk perspective. The left side of the continuum above illustrates the practice of simply listening: low risk but less audience benefit. The middle demonstrates limited interactions: increased risk but more benefit. The right side indicates a movement toward engagement with safeguards such as active monitoring and comment moderation: more risk but also the most benefit to your audience.

Be prepared to moderate

As in life, the key to engaging on social media channels is moderation. For a social platform to be a viable pharma marketing tool, it must allow the ability for the administrator to delete comments made by users, also known as comment moderation. While recent guidance from the FDA  indicates that pharma companies will not be held responsible for user-generated comments (if the company has no affiliation with or influence over the content), companies often elect to remove comments that go against their stated rules of engagement, such as mentioning branded treatments in an unbranded environment. Moderating user-generated content requires regular monitoring, which is fortunately something Intouch can help  with.

Let’s explore three major social platforms for their use as pharma marketing channels:

Facebook

With more than 1 billion users, Facebook is arguably the most widely used social network. According to Pew Research, 71 percent of online adults use the platform, most significantly women ages 18-29. Facebook makes it easy for users to share links, events and images with their networks, plus content can be paired with Facebook Ads, both of which can extend a company’s marketing reach. The platform is very mobile-friendly and is growing to be more search-engine-friendly. Facebook also offers keyword and profanity filters which automatically mark uninvited or inappropriate language as spam, so it is not published on the page.

Based on our experience on behalf of clients, Facebook offers the opportunity to interact with a target audience on a personal level, posting engaging questions that solicit conversation and often produce enlightening responses that can further guide future content development. Page administrators can monitor and moderate comments through the use of a custom application such as PharmaWall® , as well as respond via private message. Keep in mind, features, functionalities and algorithms change frequently  on the platform, which may mean changes in marketing strategies.

Is Facebook pharma-safe? Yes, given the forum for connecting with an audience on a personal level and the option for comment moderation and private response.

LinkedIn

A social network geared to the professional audience, LinkedIn boasts more than 277 million registered members in more than 200 countries. Pew Research indicates that 22 percent of online adults use LinkedIn, with 27 percent aged 30-49. Many pharma companies already have a presence on LinkedIn, posting company updates, industry links and job openings. Administrators can also add corporate blogs and Twitter accounts via RSS to stream automatically on the company page. The option to broadcast content via a social media management tool such as Hootsuite is also handy.

Moderation of user-generated comments is a sticking point here, however. There is no option to pre-moderate comments on news updates, nor is there an option to edit or remove comments once posted.

Is LinkedIn pharma-safe? Because there does not appear to be a way to moderate or delete comments, we hesitate to fully recommend LinkedIn as a social communication channel. Since LinkedIn is where many people look for business profiles, however, it’s best for companies to claim their corporate profile and post relevant and timely information. LinkedIn may be best used by pharmaceutical companies for employee recruiting as opposed to product promotion.

Twitter

A micro-blogging social network which encourages concise communication (up to 140 characters), Twitter boasts more than 240 million monthly active users. Some 18 percent of online adults use the platform, according to Pew Research. Most users access the service via mobile devices (76 percent, says Twitter). There are also a variety of tools to help manage content monitoring and publication, such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Spredfast. The platform is also a real-time source for information, with news about current events often showing up in Twitter feeds before news media sites .

As Twitter users often post requests for assistance, information and customer service, Twitter offers the opportunity for marketers to engage with their audience at the point of need. Like Facebook, our clients have also had success with posing engaging questions to encourage conversation among followers and the larger community. Companies can reply to users publicly or via direct message. Many health communities engage daily on Twitter, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Unfortunately there is no way to moderate a conversation, however. Twitter doesn’t offer the option to remove Tweets published by other users. Also, due to the 140-character limit, effectively balancing claims and Important Safety Information (ISI) can be a challenge.

Is Twitter pharma-safe? Yes, with the understanding that other users can post whatever they like. The benefits often outweigh the risks with so many health communities active on the platform.

BONUS Channels:

See these past blog posts for our recommendations surrounding YouTubeGoogle+ , Pinterest  and Instagram  for pharma marketers.

The bottom line

Companies must weigh the risks of communicating in a regulated industry, with the benefits of engaging with their audience where they already spend a great deal of time. With the  monitoring and moderation features available on some social media platforms, there are many options to meaningfully — and safely — connect with your audience. Intouch would love to help you get the conversation started.

 

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