Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
GE Healthcare's cancer Pinterest board
The last 12-months have seen the pharma industry become increasingly comfortable with social media, or at least the idea of using it.
Social media channels were often used to support off-line campaigns and, where three years ago the launch of a new Twitter account would have been big news, this year it was pretty much expected that companies should use social media.
Noteworthy uses of social media by pharma in 2012 included Roche's sponsorship in March of the Diabetes Nest platform, a Twitter-based social network that curates, filters and presents relevant, real-time conversations to the diabetes online community.
In June, Pfizer went all-out with a major US social media campaign to kick-start a conversation about ageing. The company's long-term Get Old initiative includes Facebook and Twitter presences, which run alongside a bespoke online community that will allow users to share and view stories, photos and videos about getting old, and even vote on how they feel about ageing.
Then in November, GlaxoSmithKline allowed its vice president of global brand communications, Kerry O'Callaghan, to use the corporate @GSK Twitter account and participate in a tweet chat about internal communications strategies for major events. (Naturally the focus was on GSK's sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic games.)
The rise of online pin board Pinterest during 2012 presented, and still presents, pharma with a rare opportunity to engage with an emerging social media channel.
It may not have grabbed as much press attention as Twitter, but it is the first new social media channel to have threatened to really go mainstream in the last couple of years and, in January 2012, it became the fastest social media site to break the 10 million unique visitor mark.
The first big pharma company to join Pinterest was Bayer in April, when it began using it to share images and information about its activities in the US.
By September, the number of companies exploring Pinterest was gradually gaining momentum, as Boehringer Ingelheim, GE Healthcare boards, Menarini and Novo Nordisk all started pinning.
A return to blogging
Blogs were one of the first social networks that pharma companies used as external-facing communications tools, but their long-form, long-term nature has seen them overtaken by tools that are quicker and easier to use, such as Twitter.
Nevertheless, blogs have remained a constant presence on the pharma social media scene, and each year has generally seen one or two new additions to the ranks.
This year, however, it felt like blogging had a resurgence. The numbers remain fairly low, but companies launched a variety of specialised and general blogs over the last 12 months.
In October, AstraZeneca launched a science-focused blog called Lab Talk that it hopes will eventually grow into an online scientific forum. The new site aims to be a place that scientists from within AZ and the wider industry can discuss “cutting-edge science and innovation” and – perhaps somewhat hopefully - share their ideas and approaches.
But while AZ was building on the experience of setting up its corporate blog (AZ Health Connections, which launched in 2009), Sanofi took the opposite path in December, going from the specialised Discuss Diabetes blog it launched in 2011 to debut in December its new corporate Speaking of Sanofi blog.
There were further blogs launches throughout the year from Bayer, which assembled a team of UK patient contributors for its diabetes blog; Lilly, which launched in Canada the first of a series of local versions of its LillyPad corporate blog; Shire with its Your Partner In Epilepsy blog; and Boehringer Ingelheim, with its More Health corporate social responsibility blog.
From blogs to Twitter to Pinterest, when taken as a whole pharma's initiatives in 2012 show an industry making ever-greater use of social media channels. But, the still fragmented nature of companies' use of the technology suggests that while they might be comfortable with the idea of digital channels, in practice there's still some way to go.