Jan 1, 1970 - Jan 1, 1970,

Pharma marketing and social media

Andrew Tolve reports on best practice in deploying social media for pharma marketing

Placing social insights at the heart of your marketing strategy is easier said than done. For one, amidst the shifting tides of social media, what’s in one day can easily be out the next day—or the next hour, given how quickly conversations address topics of interest and then abandon them for the next juicy post to come along. Creating a strategy that’s grounded in this ever-changing landscape is therefore a challenge.

Additionally, figuring out how to engage in the conversation and where to meet your audience is equally dicey. Some communities love when brands join their conversations. Others abhor it. Some people are receptive to pharma marketing but only on their mobile devices, while others prefer emails or good old-fashion brochures in the mail.

“It’s a lot easier to broadcast one message one way than to customize it ten ways and send it out ten ways,” says Wendy Blackburn, executive vice president of Intouch Solutions. “That’s a logistics nightmare for a pharma company, and you hate for logistics to negatively influence marketing impact.”

At the same time, ignoring social media is no longer an option, says Blackburn, since the opportunity to gain unparalleled insights into customers’ wants and worries is too good to pass up in this ultra-competitive market. Companies need to listen to their customers and patients. They need to take what they hear and tailor their campaigns accordingly. And they need to deliver those campaigns in a personalized manner. (For more from Wendy Blackburn, see Ten reasons your pharma firm isnt participating in social media, 9 ways your pharma firm can overcome barriers to participating in social media, and Future Pharma: A closer look at the iPad in pharma/physician relations.)

“Unless you prove yourself to be authentic, experienced and interactive, your audience will not be able to trust your products and services,” says Olivier Laurent, founder of Health2Europe.com, a web portal for Health 2.0 news, and CEO of the Coligane group, a pharma consultancy based in Belgium.

Monitoring social conversations

The best way to start drawing value from social media conversations is to listen. Forget about launching a Facebook page or a Twitter feed; start surfing around and see what patients and physicians are already saying about your products online.

Blackburn notes that social media monitoring, as such listening is known within the industry, should not be a box for you to simply check off a list. You have to actually pay attention to what’s being said, see what issues are bubbling up, and look at data to better understand the market. What questions are not getting answered? What aspect of your product is not getting delivered? Are people holding the injection device improperly? Or using the inhaler incorrectly, impacting compliance as a result? “If you can identify these issues via social media, that’s good for everyone,” Blackburn says.

Companies can easily initiate this process by using social media dashboards like HootSuite or TweetDeck, which allow analysts to track social media conversations via keywords like “insomnia” or “Abilify.” Blackburn cautions, however, that informal monitoring like this is not comprehensive enough to actually analyze the full conversation and draw meaningful, actionable conclusions from it.

“To do it right and do it at the scale to make it rigorous enough for decision making, I don’t think most pharma companies have the internal resources,” she says. Which means companies wading into social media monitoring should likely bring some external reinforcements along with them, reinforcements that are prepared with “a magic mix” of professional tools, free tools, plus human intervention and analysis.

Blackburn also cautions that social media monitoring should not become the only research that companies do. In fact, it’s dangerous to have social media be the only source of information because, despite the vast access and insights it can provide, “people have different personas online,” she says. “They rant on things, which some would say is more honest, but some would say is more exaggerated.” Balancing social media monitoring with traditional market research is thus important.

Engaging social conversations

Social media is a two-way street. The whole point of the Internet is connectivity, and nothing on the Web embodies this more than social media. Someone says something, you say something back, and the connection between the two of you—the learnings, the friendship, the inspiration—edges humanity forward. At least, that’s the idea in its ideal form.

Even in the messy reality, simply listening and monitoring social media without engaging with it will only get pharma brands so far. If brands want to shape their images online and nurture the notion that their products exist for the people, rather than for the bottom-line of the parent company, engagement is key.

Of course, engagement doesn’t necessarily mean gallivanting into a Twitter discussion that’s casting your brand in a negative light, Blackburn says. “There’s a huge ‘it depends’ surrounding that,” she cautions, adding that some communities are far more receptive to the presence of a brand than others. Blackburn often works with the diabetes community and says that thought leaders in that community do want to connect with pharma about certain topics on their own terms. Then again, they don’t want to see pharma companies “creeping around” their conversations. “It’s a fine line,” she says.

One way to negotiate the delicateness of the situation is to start at home. Companies can turn branded sites into social-media-optimized hubs of information. Keep a blog and use key words strategically and repetitively so that you can achieve search engine optimization. “Being the first result found when specific key words are typed in Google is the main target when it comes to marketing,” says Laurent.

Furthermore, integrate multimedia into a site—Johnson & Johnson’s health channel is a great example—and ensure that patients can “Like” videos and blog posts, retweet them, follow them on an RSS feed, and share them across the social media landscape. That way your brand gets inserted into conversations in a generally positive light without you actively having to push the message yourself.

If brands want to venture out beyond their own sites, Blackburn advises that they should start with medical-focused forums like PatientsLikeMe or WEGO Health Portal rather than Facebook, since these networks are more conducive to medical conversations. As brand presence begins to stir conversation in these forums (and therefore deliver marketing impact), brands should probe those conversations to further tailor marketing campaigns. “Analyzing the data is crucial,” Blackburn says.

Segmenting social conversations

When you buy an airplane ticket online these days, you generally get to choose how the airline will contact you with updates. That way if your flight’s running behind and you’re out and about, you can get a text on your smartphone. Or if you’re more the type that wants an email in your inbox, you can get that too. “It’s awesome and easy, and people respond positively to that,” says Blackburn.

Pharma can do likewise, providing information that’s personalized to the type of information patients find valuable and that’s delivered via the channel they prefer—email, text, app, tweet, brochure, kit in the mail, etc. There are numerous ways for brands to collect these preferences. They can add questions about contact preferences and content interests on patient questionnaires. They can build physician preferences into CRM databases. They can insert preference questions into online forms. They can track what people “Like” on their websites or which feeds they subscribe to. (For more on CRM, see Get ready for CRM 2.0.)

The real question, says Blackburn, is not how to collect preferences but rather how to manage preferences once you have them. “A lot of our clients run through this mental back and forth where they say, ‘Yes, we want data.’ ‘Ok, how are you going to manage that data?’ ‘Well, I’m not sure.’”

Their vacillations are in some ways justified. Segmenting a database is a chore, let alone all the different forms that legal has to then review and send out to governing bodies like DDMAC and the FDA. A quick fix is to remove delivery from the equation. Instead, focus on accessibility. If someone wants to access information about your brand via mobile, your website should be mobile optimized and your emails should be viewable on a mobile device. If patients want to talk to you on the phone, you should have a hotline number for them to call. “At least give them options,” Blackburn says. “That will start to open up communication.”

A more long-term approach to segmentation requires pharma companies to ramp up internal and external resources in order to manage a segmented audience. Once companies know how patients would like to be contacted, they can use analysis techniques to pinpoint where they lie on the treatment pathway and measure how engaged they are at each stage. One such analysis, the Patient Activation Meter, uses a short questionnaire to determine where patients lie on a 100-point scale. Their activation level determines how much support they need.

Segmenting channels in this manner can drive sales at the conversion phase, when newly diagnosed patients are considering different medications, and later on the treatment pathway, when adherence becomes an issue. “This gets back to being truly customer-centric and being mindful of what your target wants and needs,” Blackburn says. “Otherwise, you’re just noise.”

For more on social media, see Special report: Pharma and social media.

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Jan 1, 1970 - Jan 1, 1970,