Pharmaceutical companies have been left behind. While other sectors of the industry now thrive in social media engagement, companies that make and sell pharmaceuticals, also known as pharmas, have yet to take advantage of the social platform effectively.
According to a new study by Weber Shandwick Health, in partnership with Forbes Insights, executives in pharma marketing and communications admit the great extent of challenges they meet in internal social strategies to align resources and instill social media confidence among team members.
The study “Digital Health: Building Social Confidence in Pharma” found that regulations no longer is the main limit to social media engagement among pharmas, even though these regulations are crucial points of concern.
Laura Schoen, President of Global Healthcare at Weber Shandwick, revealed in a press release the increase in number of patients who have turned to the Internet to gain further information about their own health conditions. She said some patients even “self-diagnose” and have become more knowledgeable about their health. This upholds consumer health empowerment and gives physicians an easier time to talk about health conditions.
Shandwick added that “the new age of participatory medicine” has arrived. She said pharmas have to understand what health communities and organizations want, and use digital technologies to inform consumers.
To conduct the survey, Weber Shandwick interviewed 12 senior in-house pharma executives who handle social media decisions, with the telephone interviews from Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States.
Stacey Bernstein, SVP and Director of US Digital Health at Weber Shandwick, said social media has increased its importance and has become “unavoidable,” so pharmas no longer have to wait for regulatory bodies to clear up what they can do and cannot do. She said the largest obstacle to genuine pharma social media engagement relies in the demand for an improved internal alignment and good understanding of the social channel.
Weber Shandwick recommeds a 10-rule strategic guide for pharmas to maximize social media confidence.
10 Rules of Engagement: Building Social Confidence in Pharma
1. Start Small
Test the waters with focused projects – perhaps around corporate goals, news and reputation issues – to gain an understanding of what works, how to begin finding audiences and building reach. Interviewees agree that starting small, such as with pilot programs, is key to gaining the experience and assurance they need to build their digital social strategies.
2. Prepare but Remain Flexible
Many state that preparation is important, principally to anticipate problems and devise solutions. However, interviewees caution against devoting significant resources to developing a fully “buttoned-up” strategy, as it will change and evolve over time. They describe how they learned, adjusted and needed space to experiment without the pressure of stringent expectations or metrics.
3. Focus on the Content, Not The Channel
Anything you can do offline, you can do online, as long as your content adheres to current regulatory standards. Companies have had difficulties with regulators when they have not followed standards that apply to non-digital rules of communication.
4. Choose Your Channels Wisely
Some interviewees portray industry colleagues as quick to jump into social media simply for the sake of “being there” and they advise on a more strategic approach, especially in choosing platforms.
5. Ensure Transparency and Honesty
Interviewees insist on clear rules of engagement and making them plainly visible on all social platforms. Some companies make a digital code of ethics available to both internal and external audiences. Others point to “softer” and “more genuine” tones as more effective with consumer audiences.
6. Deputize a Person or Team and Give Them Full Support
Allocating staff resources for social endeavors and providing appropriate training and support are key for successful social programming.
7. Bring Others Into the Fold
Working to gain the support of internal colleagues, especially from legal, regulatory and medical teams is critical. Additionally, including socially-supportive leaders from business units in strategic planning will ease the process of resolving any issues that arise in social media programming.
8. Ramp up Internal Education Efforts
Sharing the benefits and best practices around social communications will go a long way towards gaining broad support for the medium. Some interviewees are engaging outside experts to evangelize social platforms to internal company stakeholders.
9. Staff for Social Confidence
A large proportion of interviewees find the level of current staff experience to be lacking, while others recognize that they require additional resources to effectively execute social media programs.
10. Continue Pushing the Limits of ROI
While no one has answered the unique ROI (return on investment) challenges faced by the pharma industry, it is imperative to persistently seek better ways to articulate the ROI from social media.