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Pharma's growing ease with social media

GSK's participation last week in a Twitter chat is a sign of how comfortable the industry has become with social media

GSK Twitter chat

Hardly a major public event goes by these days without a rush of conversations taking place across social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

During last summer, the London 2012 Olympics saw more than 150 million tweets about the games in just 16 days, while Barack Obama's victory tweet after the US presidential elections was re-tweeted more than 455,000 times (and counting).

Pointing out that social media is really rather popular now may be nothing new, but has its increasing profile reached pharma? Surely the industry is scared of the regulatory quagmire that should be social media, sticking its head in the sand as other industries take bold steps forward?

GSK's Twitter chat

GlaxoSmithKline's participation earlier this month in a Twitter chat is the latest in a long line of examples that shows this is not the case.

It followed the example of AstraZeneca, which hosted its own chat on the social network back in February 2011 about US prescription medicines savings.

In GSK's case, the company allowed its vice president of global brand communications, Kerry O'Callaghan, to use its corporate @GSK Twitter account for a tweet chat about internal communications strategies for major events. The focus was, of course, GSK's recent sponsorship of the 2012 games.

Kerry told the #CommChat Twitter chat how tone of voice on social media channels was key to keeping employees involved and engaged, and that GSK has recently started using Yammer. So far the company has 10,000 of its employees (or 10 per cent of its total workforce) registered to use the popular internal social network, she added.

Corporate communications and social media

Nevertheless, industry surveys still regularly find that most executives believe 'other people' in pharma are more advanced than them, when it comes to social media (or perhaps just digital technologies in general).

But when it comes to big pharma, all of the top 10 companies use Twitter, for example, where most of them run multiple accounts. A similar pattern of uptake can be seen when it comes to the likes of Facebook and YouTube.

The mainstream use of these sites as corporate communications channels is also in evidence in the 'social media centres' that companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Boehringer Ingelheim have on their websites to highlight the range of channels they use. No, it's not ground-breaking, but it does speak volumes about acceptance of a medium that just a few years ago had many questioning why pharma companies should even use it.

And if you still think these channels aren't being used, there are plenty of examples of 'who's using what' in the Digital Handbook's social media directory. The online directory is now also available through the new Intelligence section on the revitalised PMLiVE.

The pharma industry can often seem to be awash with commentators bemoaning company's reticence to use social media channels, but the reality seems to me to be quite different.

While it's still true that individuals or departments may be reluctant to use social media, there are no insurmountable obstacles to doing just this and, on a corporate level at least, social media is a mainstream part of the industry's communications.

In an October blog, I took issue with pharma's problem with usability and discoverability. The functionality of social media, and the way it allows messages to spread, goes quite a long way to ease those concerns.

While it's probably true that we could all use new communications channels more effectively, pharma does seem to be happy to be social.

13th November 2012

From: Marketing

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