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Smart Thinking blog

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

Navigating the social media waters in healthcare

Regulations shouldn't prevent creative and engaging social media content


The social media landscape for pharma has evolved considerably since its social media boom of 2013 - pharmaceutical Twitter followers, for example, have since risen by nearly 300%.

Meanwhile, healthcare practitioners and businesses remain understandably nervous about breaching codes and guidelines from authorities are still vague.  However, now it’s not so much a question of whether pharma should be online – but rather how these companies should get started or improve their digital footprint, in line with the rest of the world.

Social media allows pharma to interact with groups that were previously impossible to reach: allowing for open expression, education and dialogue between HCPs, physicians and patient groups.  These groups also have a responsibility to ensure that truth wins out on social. With so many people researching their symptoms and self-diagnosing online, and too many unqualified pseudoscientists presenting themselves as experts, it’s up to the genuine experts to cut through this era of widespread misinformation.

In spite of the undeniably tough regulatory environment, there are still opportunities to produce creative, engaging and best practice social media content.

It’s time for pharma to get noticed by being bold. Here are some golden rules to keep in mind with any activation:

Assemble your team

Running a digital and social presence needs expert resource. The days you could put out a couple of tweets or Facebook posts, hoping for the best and getting decent results, are firmly in the past. Social and digital has become more sophisticated: projects are long, often intricate and of course require a sound understanding of what is and is not acceptable in the world of pharma. This is why it is imperative, when hiring an external resource, that you work with those who have exemplary experience of the industry. Your social experts should work very closely with the in-house team to ensure that social is an integral piece of the marketing mix.

Unlike other social media activations, pharma needs a solid ‘social playbook’ that will communicate clearly and effectively the functionality of all communications to every stakeholder, at every level and experience. This requires an expert knowledge of the regulatory code you operate under, expert knowledge of functionality and an experienced social strategist that understands the nuances of healthcare.


‘We are at booth ABC at XZY’ are posts or tweets you’d want to steer clear of. Create interesting, thought-provoking content, if you wish people to engage. This means investment; investment into every activation (that is appropriate), not a ‘social media campaign’ in isolation. The focus should be on a holistic, multichannel presence.

You don’t get much for free

Social media has evolved into a paid-for platform, especially when launching a new presence. Make sure your stakeholders are aware of this. On Facebook, it’s essential to pay to reach out to your audiences. With Twitter you will also need to implement a paid strategy to build followers and target the right groups with your messaging. The same is true with every other platform. That isn’t saying organic content isn’t important; once you have amassed a community, organic content becomes your testing ground. But until that point, make sure you understand the fundamentals of the advertising mechanism behind the platform you are placing spend on.

Soft launch and never stop evaluating your strategy

Soft launches are critical. This is where you secure buy in from internal stakeholders, the process is cemented and content is tested. With social and digital you can take a staggered approach and maximise your chances of success – not impede it. Testing is not expensive in social (compared with traditional media, such as television and outdoor). You haven’t failed if one post doesn’t perform well. Pause the spend, take the learning and next month put out some fresh content.  Measurement is absolutely key in your social strategy – and thankfully, it’s easy to measure – with a range of social listening tools available. Knowing what works allows you to change tack quickly and easily.  Measurement also demonstrates to key stakeholders the value of your social presence.

The social media landscape in pharma is changing shape – and for the better. Companies are becoming bolder, more creative and less risk-averse.  If you follow the golden rules, with the right team in place, there’s potential for excellent return on investment and you will be able to reach out to your key audiences in new and exciting ways.

Article by
Nicole Burns

is a senior social strategist at Virgo Health

16th August 2017

From: Marketing



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