Pharma warms up to social media

by Darinia Khongwir    Jul 03, 2013


Social media has redefined ‘engagement’ for businesses and opened doors to consumer insights never before imagined. Due to unclear guidelines on the use of social media, Pharma companies have been slow on the uptake of this medium. They have been investing in expensive and time consuming methods like personal interviews, opinion polls, etc., to gain insights into the minds of the healthcare value chain stakeholder.

Rishi Arora Consultant, Pharma Industry Solutions Group, HLS, says that there is a growing realization that social is the way forward. With the FDA guidelines of 2011, listing dos and don’ts for certain aspects of social media usage by pharma companies, a few have started innovative social initiatives.

A KPMG survey of US pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies found that 43 percent of respondents planned to increase their use of social media with patients. The year 2012 also saw the digital marketing spend of drug makers in the US rise 65 percent from 2011.

Pharma companies have focused on using social media for creating brand/product awareness, managing communities and reaching out to stakeholders like patients and physicians. AstraZeneca took a big step on Twitter last year driving real-time conversation by hosting a Twitter chat about patient prescription programs. The tweet chat got people talking about the company’s prescription assistance program, and helped the company find ways to reach more patients who are eligible for the program. The chat reportedly engaged hundreds of participants including patients, patient advocacy groups, healthcare professionals and industry observers.

Social media is also playing an important role in influencing physician communities via interactions with key opinion leaders. This will continue to be a core area of focus for Pharma as they develop a finer understanding of how these direct interactions can help in raising the productivity of clinical research. Successful community approaches include Roche that curates online conversations to share the latest diabetes information with the community. Sanofi, on the other hand has integrated its twitter account with a couple of online communities, a disease glossary, and even a diabetes innovation challenge.

With approximately 80 percent of trials failing to meet enrolment deadlines and $8 million in revenue at stake for each day of delay, ’social’ is emerging as a possible solution. The emerging trend of ‘Social clinical trials’ employs social channels to deal with enrolment and engagement issues and helps lower dropout rates and trial costs.

“All these social engagements are creating unprecedented data mining opportunities for Pharma. Conversations on payer, provider and patient communities as well as the data from social clinical trials can be analysed to derive insights that can significantly impact the industry’s business strategy,” says Arora. 

Patients, caregivers, healthcare companies and physicians will only increase their use of social media in the future. Given the fact that timely and high-quality information is key for Pharma companies, they must put social media at the center of their strategy proactively and devise strategies to mine the structured and unstructured information that it provides.