The corporate presence
Traditional pharma websites – CompanyName.com sites – have generally been online for more than a decade. So the first step into social media tends to add to these sites with an equivalent presence on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and even, in some cases, Google+.
The social media accounts are usually run by the corporate communications team and, allowing for some variation in terms of conversational voice, tone, level of participation and type of information shared, generally concentrate on pushing out links to company information.
These are often the next step in pharma's social media journey and give companies a local voice and presence but, because they need buy-in and expertise on the ground, they are not universal.
Pfizer provides a typical example. The company has Facebook pages for its operations in Spain, Turkey, Finland, it's running Twitter accounts for Spain, France, Austria and Slovakia and has YouTube channels for Europe, Spain, Turkey and the UK. But when it comes to more time-intensive uses of social media, Pfizer's Swedish corporate social responsibility blog (miljö- och ansvarsblogg) is a rare example of blogging in European pharma.
Disease awareness campaigns
Chronic pain, hepatitis C, cancer and COPD are just a few of the therapy areas in which companies have used social media to help raise disease awareness in Europe.
But this use of social media, more than other initiatives, tends by its nature to have a finite, campaign-based, lifespan, and thus is the one most in need of a clear exit strategy.
Corporate social responsibility
Pfizer's Swedish blog isn't the only example of pharma using social media as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. The very nature of CSR work makes it an ideal 'good news' story to seed through social media channels.
Novo Nordisk runs a Twitter account from Copenhagen in Denmark, tweeting about 'corporate sustainability', and Bayer's head of public policy and environment Dirk Frenzel tweets on similar issues from Leverkusen in Germany.
Clinical trial patient recruitment
Australian researchers recently concluded social networks had potential in recruiting patients for clinical trials, but this is new, emerging ground for pharma.
Lilly has run two pilot studies that used social media to recruit patients for trials in diabetes and head and neck cancer. The company received a “meaningful volume of responses” and was able to make cost savings of 10-15 per cent through the elimination of multiple project fees. “Social media is now on the map for Lilly,” declares Sara James, global enrolment consultant for Europe at Lilly Research Centre.
Meanwhile, Novartis ran a short pilot using Twitter and Pfizer has a dedicated YouTube channel – Pfizer Clinical Trials – to provide trial information.