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Is pharma really on board with social media?

As the ubiquity of social media increases, pharma cannot ignore the needs of stakeholders

The debate around social media within healthcare has been inescapable in the past couple of years. Endless live events, myriad blogs and the emergence of our very own body of thought leaders have spurred the inevitable carousel of case studies from industry providing the justification for abstinence or engagement in the social media playground.

We enjoy the debate and debate leads to action, whether we agree with the course or not. The question that I have struggled to answer is, just how much progress have we made and is pharma really on board? 

I was recently faced with this question directly. A friend, with long tenure in traditional healthcare communications, now undertaking an MBA business qualification (focusing on social media and pharma) asked me for my best research and views on the topic. My time being at a premium, I gathered an array of slides, data and links and forwarded. The question that came back the same day was provocative and enlightening in its simplicity – "So what? What has pharma really done to engage with healthcare professionals? Is pharma really on board with social media?" My friend then went on to question pharma social media examples. "The HCP communities are all independent, pharma's not involved."

There is some truth here. With the exception of some standout examples, the headliners remain independent. Setting aside the fact that most survive commercially through industry sponsorship and funding, the argument falls down when we begin to consider the recent surge in pharma presence in the bastions of social media YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Many of these forays are non-HCP or CSR focused, however in our highly regulated industry it's inevitable. This also points to a genuine commitment to engage with those who are the 'end user' of our product.

All of this brings me back to the "so what?" of my friend's challenge. Without doubt this is where the dichotomy of pharma engagement with social media becomes difficult. Social media's ethos of community and transparency is at odds with any commercial marketing enterprise: it's not exclusive to pharma. However we are engaging. You just need to join the debate online – through the Healthcare Social Marketing group or similar – to understand this or consider the ongoing plethora of agencies now re-branding with a retro new logo or digital pre-fix to understand the focus pharma has on this space.

So to my friend ... of course it matters. It matters because ultimately healthcare is focused on patient outcomes and given we are all patients our growing reliance upon smartphones, tablets and laptops for daily communications is such that social media is at the very heart of healthcare. As the ubiquity of social media becomes evermore so and the paradigm shifts in how we all manage our healthcare needs, as well as how we interact with healthcare providers, pharma cannot and will not ignore the needs of stakeholders.

Late adopters and considered we may be, but that facilitates learning from other industries that can only benefit social media success. We should be considered and careful, while innovating. Our challenge is much greater and more important than that of our self-professed 'enlightened' colleagues in other industries. After all, we're helping healthcare professionals and patients improve their lives, not simply moving our cash registers from the high street to the browser.

David Moore

eMedFusionThe Author
David Moore
is senior vice president of eMedFusion, a division of KnowledgePoint360 Group
He can be contacted at:




28th September 2011


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