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Top 3 Key Lessons on Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry

On 22nd and 23rd of January in London I was honored to be a speaker at the Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry conference. Now back in Swiss Pharma capital city – Basel, let me summarize the key lessons on the social media in pharma industry I took back from the United Kingdom.

Social Network Analysis book cover [social media in pharmaceutical industry]

Social Network Analysis book cover (Photo credit: Matthew Burpee)

First of all, the event itself was really worth to attend. If you heard alarm bells buzzing on the bullshit bingo sequence of social media in pharma, this time it would be a false alarm. Not because of my humble presence, but because of the other participants and the content of their presentations. The chairwoman of the event, my ex-colleague at Roche, now enjoying freedoms of the external consultant, Alexandra Fulford (@pharmaguapa) made sure that we were not lost on the way. Having said that, let us digest the content of the conference.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #1: Social Media is not a marketer’s toy, but a source of powerful intelligence data. A Big Data!

A diagram of a social network [social media in pharmaceutical industry]

A diagram of a social network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My senior colleague from Roche, Dr. Alfred R. Steinhardt now in the hat of PA Consulting Group and his own Alfred Steinhardt Consulting, showed us an incredible power of the Social Media used not for standard “what they said about us”. Dr. Steinhardt provided example of social media used by pharmaceutical industry for recruitment to clinical trials (social patient). We could also see social media as a tool to identify and engage with Key Opinion Leaders (in this new world, aren’t they rather Influencers?) who do not necessarily recruit from academia as in the past. Maybe most striking, even if not the most common usage of Social Media was tracking origin of counterfeit drugs sold online.

As we discussed after the presentation, Social Media is not such a big revolution as some pundits say and it will not replace scientific method with statistical analysis of huge amounts of data. Still it is an extremely useful tool that should be looked at out of plain pharma marketing perspective. Which was further confirmed by Dr. Sherri Matis-Mitchell, an Associate Principal Information Scientist R&D Information at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Matis showed us how Social Media, when properly used, can provide important answers to R&D teams in pharma industry and help identify unmet needs of patients.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #2: Legal Team is not a threat (and can be a savior) for social media in pharma.

Let's Make It Legal [social media in pharmaceutical industry]

Let’s Make It Legal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An eye opening presentation of Audrey Hagege, a Legal Manager and Todd Kolm (@toddkolm), VP and Head of Global Digital Strategy from Sanofi showed us not only what Legal Teams think about Social Media. Even more important was how distorted is an image of legal teams in the eyes of us, digital marketers working on social media in pharma. At the end it is easy – just let your legal or compliance officer know what you are going to do. They are in the organization to help and protect, and not to stop any activities.

On the other hand, while social media in pharma is becoming more and more regulated, I had an impression that some of our colleagues are going dangerously close to the line. Ms. Müge Gizem Bıçakçı Akalın (@MGizemBA), a New Promotional Models Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim’s Turkish affiliate shared with us plans to promote a Facebook page of a feminine avatar with a name very closely resembling a brand of prescribed drug for menstrual pains. Is it already promotion and communication DTC, or still just a disease awareness campaign? Let’s hope Gizem has very good friends in her legal team and they are crystal clear about their legal framework.

Social Media in Pharmaceutical Industry Key Learning #3: Social media in pharma can be measured and data driven (but not always is).

Gary Monk (@Garymonk) from Havas Lynx and John Pugh (@JohnPugh) from BI shared similar thoughts on how to measure efficiency of pharma activities in social media. As we were sitting in the UK, for obvious reasons there were not much about direct impact on sales. However, we could see important metrics on the engagement. Both speakers provided some hints on what can be improved in Facebook and Twitter presence of the analysed brands, but it is not what is the most interesting from my point of view.  

What is more important is just an attempt to step back and look at those activities and try to measure them against each other. Then track what works and what is not. How your facebook page welcomes user? How fast do you respond (do you)? How often do you tweet? Do you follow others and do you retweet or share their posts? What makes Eli Lilly or Boehringer more successful in Social Media than in the market? We can find those answers, and we should as we are no longer pioneers in the social media. It is time to treat it as a serious communication channel with real budget and real targets to meet.

The lessons on social media in pharma listed above are not a comprehensive list. I have learnt much more, and I am going to share those lessons soon on K-message in other posts. There were great examples of social media and digital in action. Mobile app helping patients to fight against depression (Claire Perrin), Catz against Asthma (Ben Furber @BenFurber), Knowledge database available online to HCPs thanks to Merck and their Univadis (Thibaud Guymard @thibaudguymard), I will not be able to mention them all now. But I can now say thank you to all participants, speakers, and SMi for making this event so inspiring. Thank you!

About Piotr Wrzosiński

Piotr Wrzosinski is a sociologist focused on digital marketing in highly regulated industries. He combines experience from top players in tobacco, financial services, and pharma with a passion to the content marketing and technology. All opinions posted are his own unless stated otherwise.

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