Maximizing the Use of YouTube in Pharma Communications

How can a Pharma company utilize YouTube to its advantage, building brands, increasing awareness, and ultimately boosting sales?


The scope of YouTube is staggering. In 2008, YouTube contained over 70 million videos, published by over 200,000 creators. Every minute, 13 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. In January 2009, 147 million U.S. Internet users watched an average of 101 videos per person on the site.

The population that uses YouTube is highly varied and skews slightly older than other social networking sites, with the average age of a video viewer being nearly 27. The uses of YouTube are also highly varied, and business marketing is prominent among them.

Numerous brands and television networks have established channels, as have most politicians and celebrities with their own unique designs and constantly updated content. Some of the most highly views clips on YouTube are branded content, but they go beyond a simple rehash of commercials on TV (“The Epic Split feat. Van Damme” is one recent example that springs to mind). It’s no secret why brands are fond of YouTube – it has the ability to connect with consumers on an emotional level through the power of story and video.

Then there are the truly unique pieces (ever wondered if you could blend your old iPod into a fine, metallic dust? This video has you covered). The important thing to remember is it doesn’t need to be anything overly complicate, the aforementioned Blendtec series was incredibly low budget (many of their videos created for $50-$100), and yet the company yielded major press and prospects.


Patients on YouTube are finding educational clips and videos from hospitals, organizations and other patients, teaching them about conditions and treatments. In some cases, patients anxious or curious about screening tests or surgeries can find footage online to show them everything they need to know.

Doctors are even offering discounts to patients willing to post this footage, recognizing the immensely powerful educational value inherent. Doctors are also seizing upon YouTube as a means to educate themselves and teach residents, fellows and other staff, as well as alleviate fear of surgery or procedures for their patients.


Several Pharmaceutical companies have also now recognized the potential of YouTube and have organized videos and channels for viewer-focused content. Examples include:

  • JNJhealth is a YouTube channel launched by Johnson & Johnson in 2008. The channel features branded advertisements and also includes informational videos along key themes such as Obesity, Diabetes, diet and nutrition, Crohn’s Disease, and more. The content is extensive and videos include personal stories, commercials and general education about the conditions. The channel has over 700 subscribers and has garnered over 52,000 views.
  • Novartis created a YouTube campaign called FluFlix in which they asked people to submit videos about what it’s like to have the Flu. They publicized the campaign with example videos, reinforcing the contest rules and the Novartis branding. Almost 800,000 people viewed the sample videos; over 12,000 people viewed the FluFlix channel with entries on YouTube. The videos continue to circulate, get comments and spread the Novartis name. Each winning entry (awarded in different categories) is displayed above a congratulatory comment that includes a link to, the Novartis Flu education site.


The examples of Pharma and other companies using YouTube to inform, educate and entertain, all the while building brands, are wonderful models for other marketers just diving in. YouTube is not a place to simply dump current commercials and straight marketing messages, as these initiatives I’ve mentioned show. Instead, it should be used as social media, as a means to start conversations, involve viewers and add value.

The first step for any company looking to create a presence on YouTube is… just as it is for any other type of marketing… planning. What do you want to focus on with YouTube? How will you create something unique, useful and even important? Who do you want to reach and what messages do you want to use? How can YouTube help you reach out in a different way than any other media? How can you inform, entertain or otherwise satisfy your customers while achieving your goals by using it?

Your YouTube strategy should start with creating a channel. Consider the channel your home base on YouTube, a landing page that can include some company info and all your videos. It acts like a Facebook or MySpace profile page, which you can customize with your business image and brand. Through the channel, you can also interact with viewers and prospects. YouTube users can subscribe to your channel, receiving instant notifications when new videos are posted. They can leave comments on your videos and on the page itself. It’s your hub for the YouTube community and your content.

What content should you create? The best branded videos come in three categories:

  • Information. Present to viewers something informational, useful and even helpful to their lives. In as creative and compelling a way as possible, show off your brand and demonstrate why viewers should care. Some companies use existing or ‘director cuts’ of commercials; some produce entirely new marketing messages for YouTube.
  • Education. These types of videos go beyond information, offering viewers education for things that are important to them. How-to videos, interviews and testimonials from patients or physicians can be immensely impressive and effective, reinforcing to prospects that you care about them above all else, and improving their brand experience. 
  • Entertainment. Think about all the content that catches your eye on a daily basis when it comes to video, and the highly entertaining (and highly viewed) examples here. Here’s where you let loose, branding in as distinctive and entertaining way as possible.

The beauty of YouTube is not only the ability for two-way communication but also two-way creation. As Novartis demonstrated with its FluFlix campaign, sometimes the most intriguing content can come from users. Inviting YouTube users to co-create content supporting the brand is a way to really engage users in a way that TV and other media rarely does.

Remember that no matter the content you do produce, it must reflect highly on the brand. The quality of your videos is one area this is apparent. Videos should be short, definitely under 3 minutes, to suit the short attention spans and browsing behavior of viewers. To create your video, the best equipment for the 320x400 pixel videos is highly cost-effective, and can be as simple as a $300 camera from Best Buy.

Movies can be mixed with programs like iMovie and FinalCutPro. Sound, however, is one area you should pay close attention to. Always use an external microphone to avoid the unintelligible mumbles that can result with built-in microphones. Finally, make sure to add audio and/or visual mention of your brand site in the video. All the viewers in the world won’t mean much if they have no direction to find you afterwards, and no call to action to do it. Include your website address and other company contact information in all content.


You have a plan, you have a channel, and you have video – but so does every other company and user on YouTube. How can you stand out among the millions using the service? By remembering that YouTube is a form of social media, and revisiting our principles of effective social media interaction.


YouTube has a community, just like the other social media and networking tools we’ve discussed. Grow your presence on YouTube by exploring and commenting on other videos, joining existing topic-oriented groups, and paying close attention to other entries in your niche area.


YouTube emails and bulletins are built-in tools that allow you to point out your channel to other users with similar tastes and interests. Emails can be used judiciously to share links with others who have expressed interest in your therapeutic area. Bulletins are quick comments you can leave on other users’ pages, piquing their interest enough for them to come and check your channel out.

Optimize your Video

Use a title that clearly describes the content and includes keywords. Include a description that is as complete as possible. You have the option to include keyword tags with the video. Choose words that are relevant and that may be searched on. Don’t be shy about adding more keywords rather than less as they will only help in search results. Finally, YouTube will automatically create three freeze frame pictures from your video as a thumbnail, so choose the image that represents your content most accurately.

Stay Active

Even if you don’t have new videos to post, log in regularly to your channel page. You can even leave comments or bulletins to keep in touch with subscribers and viewers. When you log in, be sure to check out any new viewers, especially those that have commented. Just like on blogs, be sure to reply to comments and also return the favor on commenter’s own pages.

Seek Subscribers and Viewers

You want as many eyes as you possibly can get. Ultimately, the more subscribers you have, the greater network you have access to. Make your channel as sticky as possible, an engaging place with good content that viewers will want to see again.


The informative and educational potential for YouTube and companies is huge. That’s why many companies are using YouTube as a means to train teams and connect without expensive transportation. YouTube videos can work wonderfully as a format for training videos, educating staff on administrative tasks and techniques, sales methods, therapeutic areas, and much more. At the same time, YouTube can serve as a place for executives to speak to their companies, providing regular presentations to department groups, or the entire workforce, to discuss financial performance, share information and talk about other critical news. Finally, YouTube can be a great place to post highlights of annual events, anniversary parties and other gatherings.

For all YouTube videos, you have the option to mark videos as ‘private’. For corporate projects such as these, the private setting is ideal, allowing only the people you specify in a contact list to see it. YouTube then offers multiple ways to share the video with contact lists or once-off emails.

Video on YouTube can provide the spark for a truly unique eMarketing campaign, and can mesh well with blogs, social networks and Twitter.

Questions or comments? Share your thoughts with our audience in the comments section below, alternatively you can email the author directly at

Since you're here...
... and value our content, you should sign-up to our newsletter. Sign up here

eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2014

Apr 15, 2014 - Apr 16, 2014, Philadelphia

Make customer centricity work: smart pharma mindsets, models and technology that will seal commercial success