Rough Seas or Smooth Sailing? Navigating Pharma’s Role in Social Media Marketing

Feb. 14, 2011 — As more and more pharmaceutical companies explore the addition or expansion of social media marketing efforts, they are seeking to balance the perceived benefits of such marketing with the slow emergence of metrics to validate those benefits. However, it appears that social media marketing is gaining traction, according to a recent Harvard Business Review Analytics Service Report: “The New Conversation: Taking Social Media from Talk to Action.”

Roughly 79 percent of the 2,100 organizations surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services said they are either currently using social media channels (58 percent) or preparing to launch social media initiatives (21 percent). Among health/life sciences companies, in general, the Harvard report states that 48 percent of this industry sector is currently adopting social media for business purposes.

“Never before have companies had the opportunity to talk to millions of customers, send out messages, get fast feedback, and experiment with offers at relatively low costs,” the report states, noting the potential outreach opportunities provided by social networks. “It is that power that companies are seeking ways to harness, as social media has moved from the margins to the mainstream.”

“There is no question that pharmaceutical companies are interested in using social media and digital marketing to both grow their businesses and build relationships with doctors and patients,” according to John Kamp, director, Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “The question is how to use these tools in a smart, effective manner.”

Presently, only 7 percent of social media marketing users say they are able to integrate social media into their overall marketing strategies, the study states, likely due to the three primary challenges marketing departments face with social media: (1) understanding its potential to make a difference in their business; (2) measuring its effectiveness; and (3) aligning social media activities to an impact on company financials.

The pharmaceuticals industry seems on par with this integration statistic. xenical side effects An April 2010 article in the Philadelphia Business Journal reported that social media initiatives account for roughly 5 percent of drug companies’ total promotional spending.

The most effective social media marketing efforts, the Harvard report concludes, are those that do more than see social media as “a fad.”

Indeed, the report states that the most effective social media users are those that:

  • Use more than one social media channel (four or more) and are more likely to do multi-media sharing and participate in review sites, discussion forums and blogs;
  • Have developed and implemented a social media strategy and have a dedicated budget for social media activities;
  • Are more likely to use social media to monitor trends, research new product ideas via social networks, have an online user group for customers and collect and track customer reviews on their Web sites;
  • Are more likely to know where customers are talking about them on the Web and prioritize their social media activities accordingly; and
  • Use metrics and analytic tools to measure results. The report stipulates that these metrics are evolving and there is “a good deal of uncertainty about which measures and tools should be used.”

Some in the industry are doubtful that social media marketing is a valid venue for the pharmaceuticals industry. Jonathan Richman, author of the Dose of Digital blog, contends that social media will never be an effective place to advertise pharmaceutical brands. Citing a study from Accenture, Richman states that only 6 percent of people get their healthcare information on sites like Facebook. He argues that individuals do not broadcast specific drugs that they are taking on social networks because there is no reason or incentive for them to do so.

Although Richman does not see a future in social media advertising for the pharmaceuticals industry, he does advise companies to use social media as another tool in their marketing arsenal. For example, he suggests that companies visit medical forums to answer questions about their drugs and develop social media strategies that do not involve Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

At a November 2010 session at the DTC Digital Conference, moderated by the Coalition’s Kamp, Kathleen Onieal, a senior advisor with The Monitor Group and formerly global leader of marketing innovations at Merck, asserted that observing social media conversations can help to clear up inaccuracies that may pop up online. “It is almost a pharmaceutical company’s obligation to straighten out” misinformation in social media conversations, Onieal said.

As companies figure out which direction to take, regardless of their social media marketing strategies, they also need to bear in mind that the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communications is preparing social media guidelines – now due by March – that may affect those plans.overview diflucan 150mg