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What does social media listening actually tell us?

There is a wealth of wisdom to be garnered from listening and pharma social media teams should be encouraged to undertake the exercise.

It goes without saying: a conversation is a two-way thing. Why, then, do we focus so heavily on talking rather than listening? Don’t get us wrong, we are not referring to the general conversations between pharma and customers – but more specifically to pharma social media teams.The phrase ‘you must listen to your customers’ has been alive and well for centuries but, worryingly, is largely neglected when it comes to social media platforms. On these platforms, there’s a tendency to thrust information at recipients rather than respond to what they ask for. 

In other words, to talk rather than listen. 

Pharma social media is a weird and baffling universe at the best of times, and it’s hard to think in terms of it being a ‘conversation’ between two parties when there are, well, millions of parties involved. 

Yet the first step to understanding social media, in a business sense, is to cement this belief. Try not to think of pharma social media as a platform to get your message across, but rather as a meeting place between you and your customers. The second (and more difficult) step is to understand how the conversation unfurls from then on. 

But how... and why... should we ‘listen’?
There are a number of reasons why social media is not viewed as a ‘conversation’ between companies and customers, and these don’t just apply to pharma. The most obvious reason is that the countless social media users out there are faceless, and we haven’t a direct motive to talk to each other (as we have with patients who need to obtain treatments, for example). 

Yet from a research perspective, there’s a wealth of wisdom to be garnered from these unknown entities. They have experiences, opinions and ideas which could be used to improve both treatments and practices (such as reports of side effects and effective drug combinations, for example) – and the methods we use to promote ourselves and our products. The limits and regulations which accompany the usual drug trials do not apply, and the number of participants is endless. And on top of this, these participants do not know they are such – so feel under no pressure to give the ‘right answers’ and will be more honest as a result. 

Of course, it is naive to think that ‘listening’ to all these people is as straightforward as conducting a trial with a set number of volunteers in a defined environment. Yet with time and dedication, there’s every reason to suggest that this science can be perfected. 

And in response to the suggestion that social media users don’t represent the ‘average’ patients, in a survey conducted by Novartis and IMS Health on MS patients, 10,000 pharma social media posts were reviewed to test the “applicability of social media analysis to outcomes research using automated listening combined with filtering and analysis of data by specialists.” The team concluded, positively, that social media intelligence has “the power to analyse MS patients’ personal experiences of treatments, and to chart the most common reasons for switching between therapies.” 

In short, listening to pharma social media can, potentially, be as effective as trials, surveys or any other form of research. The hard work, however, will come in mastering this new science for the best patient (and pharma) outcomes. 

Marketing and ‘people power’
Besides the hard facts and analysis, listening to social media arms us with something abstract and unquantifiable: the ‘finger on the pulse’ of society. 

Understandably, this ‘unquantifiable’ aspect fills many pharma professionals with dread. Questions such as “How can we trust data that isn’t concrete?” abound, and naturally so. 

Yet fortunately, the internet whizzes out there have developed all manner of data analysis methods which study trends and algorithms, and these can all be accessed to give an overview of what your ‘customers’ (i.e. patients, healthcare professionals (HCPs) and doctors) are talking, asking and worrying about. Armed with this knowledge, you can better see how you can answer their concerns and fit in with their lives. And with further analysis of which forums and sites your public visit the most, you’ll know where to find them too. 

Unlike the world of medicine, the world of marketing is as much about the unknown as the known. In other words, results aren’t always visible! Marketers go to great lengths to foster relationships with customers before any kind of material gain is seen, and these relationships are forged through simply ‘being there’ first. The finger on the pulse helps you to know which questions need to be answered, so in effect your customer takes the lead. 

But where does that lead you? Well in the long run, you develop the reputation of an expert in your field – and one who they trust, on top of that. And the domino effect of this is that customers tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on. Have faith in the future! 

You don’t need me to tell you that ‘listening to the customer’ is essential in developing a fruitful relationship with them, but perhaps you need some encouragement in the knowledge that social media can be the place where this relationship prospers. It is thriving in other industries, so there’s no reason why pharma can’t join the party.

This blog was originally posted here:

8th November 2017



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