Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
The pharmaceutical industry has slowly, but steadily, increased its social media presences over the last six years.
Now, in 2012, it's fair to say pharma has a reasonable level of comfort with these channels, at least that is, if the industry's use of blogs, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is anything to go by.
Nevertheless, while social media is no longer alien to pharma, there is always room for improvement.
Merck Serono's head of eMedia and social media Gillian Tachibana will be speaking at Eyeforpharma's e-marketing and mobile conference in Barcelona next month. Ahead of that I caught up with her recently to talk about how pharma is using social media and how companies could do it better.
Don't view social media is not a mystical 'other'
On one level social media does have its own rules, both in terms of the technology (for example, when it comes to the porous line between public and private, and what that could mean), and also in terms of the etiquette to be followed.
But does that mean that this 21st century communications channel is different from everything that's gone before it?
“Social media is being treated as a separate beast in itself … it's not,” Gillian explains. “Social media is part of the internet and our everyday lives. So, just as over ten years ago we would talk about e-business as a completely separate beast, now nobody even uses that term anymore."
When it comes to pharma marketing basics, such as brand elements, these should always match up, regardless of whether the campaign is online or offline, Gillian says.
“Why would you do a separate campaign on Twitter or Facebook and not join it up to your website – for me it has to be fully integrated. So I see a cyclical relationship between a static website, social media platforms and, lets say, a mobile application.”
Start 'listening' to social media
Pharma companies have been experimenting with social media 'listening', but they should do more of it. Listening, or monitoring, is a key aspect to getting value out of these channels and preparing to use them.
When it comes to pharma, Gillian says social media 'listening' should be a key first step for companies that are looking to social media for new opportunities.
“A lot of our social media activity is centred around listening and it's very important for us to understand where our target groups are. It doesn't seem to be any good to launch a platform and think that patients and healthcare professionals are going to be on it. You have to go where they are.”
Noted social media author Chris Brogan provides some tips on where to start with social media listening in his keynote How to start listening in social media blog post.
Avoid 'me-too' social media campaigns
“I've seen a lot of marketing teams across pharma launch social media campaigns just to launch them, or because the competitor is doing it, and they seem to die in the wind.
“One of the greatest pitfalls for marketers is to produce 'me-too' campaigns, which come as a result of being reactive to competitor x, y or z.”
Make your social media campaign a group effort
It takes five minutes to set yourself, your brand or your company up with social media accounts. But that's a long way removed from the kind of considered approach that sees you evaluate the possible channels, assess how they would fit into the company's strategy and evaluate how – over the longer term – they would actually be used.
How should pharma marketers approach social media?
“First, people should have the sense to sit down around a table with all the key actors, from legal, regulatory, medical, marketing and communications,” says Gillian. “This is a group effort, a real job, and not some individual sitting in a corner thinking 'I have a Facebook account, I'll just use that on behalf of the company', it doesn't work that way.
“So people have to understand exactly what social media means to their business, especially what it means to their customers. Then you balance that out by understanding what the processes are and what the pitfalls could be, and prepare for them.
“It's really about doing this as group effort and not working in silos.”
Acknowledge the power of local campaigns
The trend towards global pharma brands is often extended to how companies look to use social media, but the realities of cultural and linguistic diversity mean that a local approach can often prove to be more powerful than a rigid global voice.
“Even sitting where I am, from a corporate perspective, I don't know what's going on in China or Mexico, I know I need to factor in their cultural and linguistic diversity, the 'digital divide' and what's going on in those markets,” says Gillian.
“Before launching a global campaign, think about what that campaign will mean to the lowest common denominator in, say, a marketing or a research team in country x. Often they cannot support a global campaign, so we need to understand how our strategy can be broken down more locally for individual countries.
“Quite a few times I've noticed that local campaigns are much more successful than trying to launch one global campaign. Let's also not forget that the entire world does not really speak English!”
Question why you want to use social media
So, how to start using social media in pharma? After checking policies on areas such as data protection, Gillian says the next steps are to question the purpose of using social media.
“First we ask teams whether they're following a global strategy of their brand franchise, for example. If it has nothing to do with a brand franchise or it's a local-only product then the next questions are why, what's your purpose and what do you intend to achieve?
“We would want to know, if they launched the campaign today, three months from now what do they expect to report back as a success? What's your success story?
“We also need to see a strategy and tactics and be able to at least visualize an end result, and then we let them go for it."
Plan, plan, plan
“Don't be pressured into thinking that because social media moves so fast you have to have something ready to say right now,” Gillian concludes. “If you want a successful campaign, just like anything else, plan, plan, plan.
“Don't just run and jump headfirst into a lake.”
• Gillian Tachibana is head of eMedia/Social Media within Merck KGaA's Merck Serono division. She will be speaking at Eyeforpharma's e-marketing and mobile conference, which takes place in Barcelona on March 27-28, 2012