HEY PHARMA! Time to Embrace Being Social.

Hey Pharma!

Facebook’s recent newsfeed algorithm change has presented an indirect a wake-up call for pharma: it’s time to learn how to be social. It’s more imperative than ever to garner engagement on your posts, so adapt accordingly.

But why is it that pharma has struggled to be successful in what may arguably be one of the most social topics – your health?

It starts with a change of mindset. Remember, social is a behavior, not a platform. To help approach this, I first need to make an important distinction between “health” and “pharma.”

Health is social. We always hear that. I can beat you over the head with statistics showing that the majority of Americans use online/social for health information and/or advice. This ranges from looking up symptoms on WebMD, to participating in a community or campaign for disease awareness or even seeking comfort and advice from others with the same experiences. Even offline your health is social. You get “feel better” wishes from family and friends, someone brings you chicken soup and most importantly, your loved ones are concerned and care.

Pharma is not social. It tries to be, most often in the disease awareness or corporate spaces, and while some do a great job, most stumble. Frequently, “branded” social media pages surface out of the [very reasonable] need to meet brand objectives. The problem is that they innately go against the social grain both from a technology and behavioral perspective. Even before this change, Facebook posts with no comments wouldn’t surface in newsfeeds, so now it’s even less likely anyone will see your posts, and, who is going to share drug info with a lengthy ISI anyway?

Now the Interesting Part

The roots go deep. Pharma has yet to become truly social and we’re seeing reinforcement of Facebook’s community-focused approach that for years has guided digital/social experts in shaping the way the industry interacts via social media. Furthermore, with engagement at the center of the algorithm it’s a change works directly along the very nature of how people interact online, namely, deciding yourself what you want to share with your personal network.

What’s noteworthy is that Facebook is demanding more of brands on social at a time in which pharma is slowly becoming bolder in adopting social media strategies.

Facebook as the first major social media platform indirectly fostered the best practices for pharma’s dive into social media – the first network with a focus on holistic, engaging, community-based disease awareness efforts. With this change, while programs may have a harder time reaching patients based on the state of current pharma content, so the industry must now recognize the tremendous advantage it has in leveraging disease-awareness as the one most powerful social platforms that patients have proven to rally behind.

It presents a unique opportunity for pharma to step it up and offer awesome content while simultaneously leveraging technical functionality to its advantage.

So how do we actually balance functionality, patient needs and business priorities? We have to re-focus, proactively. The nature of the digital/social world means that the more we wait and see, the more we’ll fall behind. It’s simple, really. Embrace that social media requires engagement and is not a one-way distribution channel for branded messaging. Provide utility beyond brand awareness. Separate, distance and find creative pathways to drive patients to brand.com. Make sure your “educational” website is truly going to provide the value needed for the community, people whose lives are affected by debilitating diseases need more from us and that’s where we’ll see the greatest ROI.

This core idea of providing quality content and engaging in a human way is the core of a stigma that haunts the pharma industry – a negative stigma that persists even when brands or products are not mentioned, which means we need to buffer the audience with a softer approach to a traditional marketing funnel.

There are far less risks with this path. Audiences will welcome it, FDA regulations are easier to navigate (especially with the recently released FDA guidance) and (in my mind) a true role for pharma in social media will finally be realized.

Further, this strategy may also have an effect on the perception of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole – a change from giant faceless corporations to people that care about the impact disease can have on family outside of treatment – a much needed PR revamp for pharma. Sure, it’s a few steps removed from sales, but the digital landscape is changing faster than most can keep up.

If pharma truly wants to be successful in social media, this is the way …

… but do they?

3 thoughts on “HEY PHARMA! Time to Embrace Being Social.

  1. Hi Brian, I would love to see patients discuss their health conditions on Facebook. From a users perspective Facebook is happy medium, I talk about my holidays, how my kids are doing, where have I need eating out etc, I am yet to come across a post that goes like this – “Shit my LDL count has gone south, damn the statin doses”.

    The other point that has always kept Pharma away from engaging with patients is the need to be at an arms length, so really the question is will Doctors ever engage with their patients socially – the day this happens we will see true e-Health.

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment! Patients actually do discuss their health, not necessarily only on Facebook or Twitter, but most often in Forums where they can find others going through similar experiences. In most cases, the conversations are much less scientific/specific than what you mentioned – typically revolving around symptoms, emotional support, treatment advice (which can be dangerous) and/or experience managing life with a health condition. Social Listening tools can grant access to millions of conversations for insights. We’re seeing more and more doctors texting, video chatting, and utilizing technology, with some actually choosing to interact with patients via Facebook and other social channels, but obviously there are many technological and privacy hurdles to overcome.

      Great point that there remains the need with pharma to remain at arms length, but through unbranded disease awareness and social efforts, pharma can most definitely have an impact on the lives of their patients outside of research and treatment.

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