Don’t Just Use Social – BE SOCIAL (and why that’s okay for Pharma)


There’s a difference, a distinction that many still overlook.

Social Media is not to be used merely as a channel for distribution, nor to drive to your website or run contests to get people to “Like” your page or follow your handle.

It’s known as “Social” Media because it all started with being social. Connecting with friends, family and acquaintances. Brands suddenly became involved in what were Social Networks, most unable to grasp the nature of the medium from the beginning. Many have adapted, others still fall far behind.

  • Personality: It simply starts with having a personality, being a person. No matter how dry or unpleasing content may be, there can always be a voice in Social that attracts attention. That voice can be excited, passionate, a leader, a voice of support and understanding. The more we rely on canned responses and pre-created editorial calendars, the less room there is for this personality. Say thank you, send well wishes, make friends!
  • Advice for Twitter: Twitter is a constant and ongoing conversation. You must participate in this conversation to be successful. Hashtags help you enter conversations and interacting with people on a consistent basis drives success. Share, talk, engage and be a member of the community, don’t just schedule Tweets. There are many tools that can make being part of the conversation easy for nearly anyone.
  • Advice for Facebook: Be a friend. Feel like family. That’s what Facebook is all about. Just like Twitter, share, talk and be a member of the community. Provide education, entertainment or otherwise engage with your target audience. Provide quality content, a mix of third-party and custom; make it worth reading or watching. Don’t just post an article, but pull out aspects of what you found interesting about that article to encourage conversation.

If you’re in Pharma, keep reading:

For those of you thinking that we can’t act in real-time within the Pharma industry, think again. Realize that the way Pharma should be using Social Media will help it steer clear of the majority of potential pitfalls. It’s only by forcing DTC communications that we run into problems, and at this point, many are forcing it. According to 9 out of 10 Pharma companies spend more on marketing than Research & Development, with the majority of that money spent on misguided DTC or HCP marketing initiatives, especially in digital/social. In most cases, the biggest barrier to digital/social success for Pharma is Pharma itself – DTC focused marketing directives, agencies that follow clients and the resulting med/legal teams that don’t understand the complicated aspects of branded digital/social efforts, and therefore rightly shy away from them.

Also consider this – the FDA has realized that user-generated content can’t be controlled, but many Pharma marketers and med/legal teams have not. The FDA has quietly slipped ahead of Pharma, realizing they just need to do what they’ve always done – discourage questionable DTC marketing practices – targeting branded activities that are not transparent, do not contain fair balance and may lead to someone asking for a specific treatment by “talking to their doctor” without understanding the risks, as John Oliver recently mentioned in a great segment.

The closer it gets to being dishonest or misleading, the more likely the FDA will get involved. Pharma continues to push to find ways to force branded content, often in embarrassing or otherwise self-depreciating efforts. This push happens while Pharma continues to point at the FDA for lack of guidance in social media, which in reality is a call to draw the line for DTC communications.

Social Media, as we know, allows little to no room for dishonesty or questionable tactics. It can be very influential and sometimes tricky for patients to distinguish native ads/promotional content from other content, especially as platforms evolve. This is the concern the FDA really has. The fact is, we have our guidelines.

This allows us to lay the groundwork by efficiently spending marketing funds in Digital/Social, perhaps capitalizing on opportunities to creatively highlight R&D and disease awareness efforts many companies actually do spend on. As long as Pharma is transparent, learns how to be social, and most importantly follows FDA queues to be very careful with branded activities (as they’ve reinforced repeatedly with any medium of communication), it can keep the social conversation away from what worries med/legal teams so much, which is also more of a fear, rather than actual risk. Despite a longer-term approach, we’ll still get patients into the doctor, still reach HCPs and do it in a more trustworthy way.

With the U.S. being one of only TWO countries to allow DTC marketing, perhaps we should re-think where we’re allocating money and how we’re applying it in digital/social to ensure it’s working as a positive for the industry. What value are current efforts actually providing?

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