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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Monitoring the social media activity of HCPs

Do your research when planning a digital engagement strategy
Do your research

Fast Track

  • Listening to organic conversation allows insights into what HCPs are actually discussing
  • Brand managers need to know which channels customers are using and what content will appeal to them before incorporating it into the brand strategy
  • Monitoring HCP-only conversation typically means less pharmacovigilance and adverse event reports.

As one of the more heavily regulated industries, it has not been easy for pharma to engage in the digital space. Many pharmaceutical companies are aware that doctors & patients are discussing their brands, therapy areas and treatments online but are wary of joining the conversation. General social media monitoring is an area of caution because of the prospect of uncovering potentially reportable adverse events.

Brand managers want to embrace digital but are unsure of which channels their customers are actually active on. Even if they decide which channels to utilise they don't know the kinds of content their customers would want to read and share. Before entering the digital space it is essential for pharma to do specific market research and understand the answer to these key questions and more. Digital market research done well provides pharma with essential information that helps create a social media engagement strategy which really makes an impact.

An essential first step

Healthcare professional (HCP) social media market research is fast becoming considered as an excellent means for pharma to make their its step into the digital arena. Here are three reasons why.


HCP social media monitoring is a great new source of market research. Over the last few years HCPs have started using public social media channels to discuss news, policy, opinion, treatments and brands with their colleagues from all over the world in real time. They are using social media to create their own communities like the #FOAMed movement (Free Open Access Medical Education). This hashtag was created by emergency physicians, for emergency physicians, and is used as a way for them to collaborate and seek advice on clinical cases.

Listening to their organic conversation allows pharma to access insights into what HCPs are discussing rather than taking the lead in the conversation with survey questions like traditional market research. Even if you are not yet ready to start your social media strategy these insights can help inform your offline tactics as well.


Market research allows you to create a digital strategy that will resonate with your customers. Brand managers realise the importance of adopting digital marketing but understand they need to know which channels customers are using and what content will appeal to them before incorporating it into the brand strategy. 

HCP social media monitoring gives you access to tens of thousands of HCP discussions which can be used like an extensive focus group. Finding out which channels each stakeholder is using, what his or her unique needs and concerns are and what type of content he or she is sharing will ultimately produce content you know will be valuable.


Monitoring HCP-only conversation typically means less pharmacovigilance and adverse event (AE) reporting issues. Companies tend to have slightly different compliance regulations. When looking at HCP conversation there are a minimal number of adverse events within HCP conversation; for a normal twelve-month study it is usually less than a handful. 

The fact that AE reports are low means monitoring HCP-only conversation is more accessible for pharma. The knowledge that you won't have to deal with hundreds or thousands of AE reports makes HCP social media monitoring a less risky environment as an initial step.

Region specific market research
If your drug or product is being marketed throughout Europe then you may consider a regional HCP market research study, which looks at each countries' individual needs. While HCPs on social media are generally keen to collaborate with colleagues on a whole range of topics from diagnosis to treatments we do see differences in how HCPs in each country interact on social media. We also see HCPs collaborating across borders, despite language differences.

Through our HCP studies we have seen that each region has its own exclusive insights ranging from different topics being discussed in each country to particular regions showing a preference towards certain social media channels. An example of this is Germans'apparent aversion to Twitter. This observation came to light in a recent study looking at how HCPs are discussing cardiovascular topics in five major regions in Europe. We noticed there was significantly less conversation on Twitter from German HCPs. Further investigating showed that they had a preference towards longer-forum public channels such as forums, blogs & videos. The main reason for this is simply that a German person's perspective is more difficult to put into 140 character bursts of information than other languages, according to an article in The Economist. It is often not enough to do one single piece of research for the whole of Europe. A study for each region is notably more valuable.

Over the last 18 months pharma has realised that, with several hundred thousand HCPs using social media, HCP social media market research is the best first step when thinking about getting involved in social. The reduction of AE reporting reduces risk, and learning so much about your customers means you can move on to create your HCP social media campaign armed with real customer intelligence for your specific region.

Benefit your brand

The next step from here is to use your HCP market research to create an engagement strategy for HCPs, both online and offline. Your content and strategy can be tailored to their expressed needs and will provide information that will actually resonate with them. We have seen pharmaceutical brands use the insights to:

  • Create a list of HCP digital opinion leaders and produce a bespoke engagement strategy for them
  • Develop a training programme offline that answered the problems nurses were expressing online
  • Provide field reps with personalised information about the doctors they are meeting
  • Prepare congress messages.

…and much, more. Each pharmaceutical brand that has commissioned an HCP market research study has used its insights in new and innovative ways, which makes this an exciting time for pharma to start its involvement with social media.

Article by
Katie Barden

is Creation Pinpoint Champion with Creation Healthcare, the HCP social insights consultancy, where she helps pharmaceutical brand managers to plan HCP research that informs their product strategies. Katie can be contacted by email or by Twitter @BardenKatie

27th November 2014

From: Marketing



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