eyeforpharma Philadelphia Conference VIRTUAL

Apr 14, 2020 - Apr 17, 2020, Philadelphia

FREE TO ATTEND: The world’s greatest gathering of pharma’s value-designers with 6000+ pharma decision-makers from marketing, patient engagement, advocacy, clinical, medical affairs, market access, RWE and IT,

Time to embrace social media

Patients are turning to social media as never before and pharma needs to catch up


Over the past decade social media has become an integral part of everyday life. We use it to maintain friendships, seek advice, buy goods and services and much more.


The pharmaceutical industry, however, has been noticeable by its absence, a situation that many feel must now be addressed as patients and healthcare professionals continue to change how they connect, communicate and self-educate.


Concerns around compliance, regulatory adherence and negative publicity, to name but a few, have kept many companies away. But as the opportunities begin to outweigh the risks, many argue that now is the time to embrace social media.


Huge opportunities are opening up as social media platforms adapt and begin to understand the industry’s specific needs, providing a more tailored option for pharmaceutical companies. And the potential is demonstrably great.


According to research from digital software company LiveWorld, which helps companies build stronger customer relationships through social media, 94% of patients report that social media has some impact on their healthcare decisions, with more than 70% citing social media as a primary go-to resource for staying on top of health-related topics.





Dawn Lacallade, LiveWorld’s Chief of Social Strategy, says social media has become a more trusted source for healthcare information thanks to a culture of peer recommendation. “This drives everything and is a key to so many of our decisions,” she says. “Purchases, movies, childcare and even healthcare.” 


This has been particularly noticeable, she explains, in patients with chronic conditions. “You can tell your friends and family about a chronic condition only so many times before they become fatigued and the support you need as a patient with a chronic condition becomes a little harder to come by. So, many of these folk are replacing this over-burdened social support network with social media.”


Fellow patients also serve as great ‘filtering mechanisms’ for new information around a condition, she says. “There are folk in these communities who are more medically technical and they will often act as a filter to take new medical information from complicated medical studies back to the general community.


“They talk and collaborate with each other about their journeys, sharing challenges, recommending healthcare professionals (HCPs) who have been particularly helpful. And we see HCPs using social to connect with peers and stay current, it gives them a window into the patient or condition area. We see this particularly among specialists.”


Increased engagement

Julissa Viana, Senior Director and Head of Global Social Media at Celgene, says another growing and evolving area on social media is clinical trial recruitment. “Companies are



using a variety of way to raise awareness to drive people to considering a trial, and physicians are engaging too,” she says. “It’s very interesting to see all the ways these platforms can be used not just from a corporate or brand perspective.”


So, there is a growing recognition that social media is an effective way to increase engagement and establish meaningful dialogue with an audience, be that patients or physicians, but there is still a significant reluctance at senior level in many companies to invest in this area.


While pharma has been a slow mover, Lacallade believes the industry is now at a ‘tipping point’. “Not only do we see momentum in the number and variety of programmes but also in the number of platforms that we can reach our various audiences on,” she says.


These include Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit, Youtube, Sermo, Doximity, LinkedIn and there are even disease education programmes on Whisper, a social media app that allows users to post and share photo and video messages anonymously, she says.


Larger companies have acted as pioneers and have created compliant processes to enable condition and product related engagements. The opportunities are plentiful then, but there are also challenges.


The rise of content marketing

Manu Field, Social Media Strategy Leader at Roche Pharmaceuticals, says the biggest problem facing companies outside the US is knowing how to show the value of social media, given the prohibitions against direct selling. “It’s not that we haven’t tried over the last decade to make it meaningful and measurable,” he says, “but it’s how to show value back to the business or provide value to the audience.” 





He points to the ‘gradual and inexorable’ rise of content marketing as a potential solution. “Obviously social media channels are a primary way of being able to implement content marketing strategies. We can potentially make great strides over the next few years,” he says.


The main challenge, says Field, is being able to employ meaningful metrics with a clear link to business outcomes. “It’s so easy, when you are under time and resource pressure, to go for the easy KPIs,” he says, “but it’s not just about having the best reach, big impressions, clicks and likes.


“You need something that can demonstrate a meaningful behavior or belief change – a download, a sign-up, a subscription, something that will drive a potential customer to contact your sales or MSL organisation. It you can’t link your social media strategy to your business strategy, I would say it’s not worth doing it.”


Another obvious challenge is managing risk and compliance issues. “It’s vital,” says Lacallade, “to work through all the areas where there could be concern – how to triage the reporting of adverse events, how to handle questions, how you will measure and so on. There are a lot of questions to ask and answer before you even launch your presence on social media.”


The debate about opening up comments is ongoing with many customers remaining reticent. However, research shows that there are plenty of customers who are looking for that level of customer service and engagement, who want more information on a brand or who are perhaps having difficulty around access. They are looking to engage and get the company’s perspective.


This, says Viana, can be both a blessing and a challenge. “You have to really work through what you are able to address on that channel. If you are going to have a presence on a channel and you open up comments then it is vital that you truly make sure you are putting in the effort and resource to have an engagement strategy and that you are serving that larger purpose.”


But there is a ‘huge amount of value’ in having those conversations, with comments turned on says Lacallade. “There are often things that your community can say that you can’t say,” she explains. 


“We have one small client who cannot talk [about] the symptoms of a condition because the label is limited to a change on a diagnostic test – but when we see the community talk to each other about the results they have seen from using the product and what they have seen in terms of symptom relief, there’s huge value in that.”


Field believes those with the least experience of social media worry the most about adverse event (AE) reports, but the reality is that it is not a problem at all. “In all the social media campaigns that we have done, organic or paid, over the last few years,” he says, “it really is not a barrier.”


Viana says the way to get around this perceived barrier is to mitigate the risk. “Train, train, train as much as possible on how it’s going to work,” she says. “And understand your AE reporting requirements and product complaint requirements. Most importantly make sure you have good support agencies to help monitor when you can’t.”


Failing to engage

Lacallade says that the number of AEs coming in are “nowhere near what people expect,” and where they do arise, many can be handled with the right mix of pre-approved responses to allow real-time answers. A selection of pre-scripted and pre-approved openings and closings along with approved middles can produce very organic and natural responses, she adds.


“We currently manage 188 pharma social media programmes. Across all those pages we can answer about 96% of questions without having to bother the brand manager. About 4% of questions require either a customized response or some sort of escalation or concern.”


There are evidently pockets of excellence across the industry but the broader pharma sector is failing to engage and so realise social media’s potential. Mindsets must change and piecemeal investment won’t realise the gains on offer.


The most successful companies, says Lacadelle, are those who have gone beyond creating one-off programmes and have established the systemic ability to use social media based on business drivers.



eyeforpharma Philadelphia Conference VIRTUAL

Apr 14, 2020 - Apr 17, 2020, Philadelphia

FREE TO ATTEND: The world’s greatest gathering of pharma’s value-designers with 6000+ pharma decision-makers from marketing, patient engagement, advocacy, clinical, medical affairs, market access, RWE and IT,