What Can Pharma Learn from LinkedIn?

Why has LinkedIn gained such vast popularity and what can the pharmaceutical industry learn from its success?

Many of you will have a LinkedIn account or are familiar with this popular platform. As a professional social media platform, LinkedIn provides a place to network and engage in sharing information. It is a hub of opportunity within the working world, and it is no wonder that, as of the end of July 2015, it had 380 million users.

In Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, Web Psychologist and award winning speaker, Nathalie Nahai, explores some of the factors behind the success of LinkedIn. Here are seven of those factors and how they apply to the pharma industry:

1. Listen to your users – A large part of the success of LinkedIn is that it takes information provided by its members and uses it to provide them with personally relevant information. This action allows users to get the best out of the network, while also allowing LinkedIn to make a profit from member subscriptions and talent solutions. In short, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Similarly, there is a need within the pharma industry to ask about and know about your customers and patients. As long as you tell people what the information is for, by providing you with more information they start to value your services more highly as a result - because they are getting a more personalized experience. According to Social Media Consultant, Antonio Calero, this is particularly important for pharma, who are always walking a tightrope as far as public trust is concerned.

2. Utilize social proof - Social proof is the phenomenon in which a behavior accepted as the norm by others encourages more people to engage in that behavior. Once effectively engaged, this further encourages people to use your services and products. LinkedIn demonstrate their social proof on the homepage with the statement, ‘Over 150 million professionals use LinkedIn to exchange information, ideas and opportunities.’ If everyone else is using this service or product, then surely it has something to offer? And do you want to be the one missing out on that offer?

Pharma companies can use various tools to broadcast how vastly their products are being used and by how many. However, what can truly make them successful is to listen to their audience. This promotes a ‘buy in’ of your company and your products. Calero suggests using keywords related to your products along with third party tools to track how much and in what way your keywords are being mentioned in social media. Information gathered in this way can influence future content and product creation, as well as help develop a two-way relationship between you and your customers.

For all the talk of social presence, the most important thing you need to decide for your company and your audience is purpose. Your online presence needs a purpose - decide what your aim is in creating and maintaining this presence. This will keep your content focused and potentially increase your audience base.

3. Leverage existing supporters - LinkedIn uses its existing members to persuade new visitors to connect with ‘people you may know.’ It also encourages you to import your contacts from different email accounts and then gives you the option to automatically invite anyone in your database who is already a member. Word of mouth and the power of suggestion will always be the best tried and tested techniques to get more people talking about your company and your products.

Search out product and disease related forums to spread the word about your presence in social media. You can even take it a step further and host your own forums to get feedback on services and products you offer. Encourage spreading the word to others at each step - don’t make it the crux of the conversation, but encourage customers and patients to share their stories with others. People considering using your service will be more trusting of other patients than they are of your own self-promotion.

4. Take an incremental approach to influence - LinkedIn does this when trying to influence members to provide more information. Each time you sign in, if you haven’t already completed your profile, LinkedIn will nudge you to add more data with a prompt like ‘your profile is 75% complete - add your past experiences.’ By asking people to complete small actions and then rewarding them with positive reinforcement (i.e. a message that ‘your profile is now 90% complete’), nearly all new visitors are eventually converted into active members.

Similar reinforcement can be offered by pharma companies looking to gather and disperse information. Offering members-only benefits in terms of content or other perks based on information provided can kick-start campaigns, and promote the company and its products. Use this strategy to your advantage by offering users more information or content based on the information they provide, like suggesting condition-related or treatment-related support groups. The more information users give you, the more you know your audience – you can then use this knowledge to build future content and interaction. Plus, it gives your current portfolio exposure and ultimate buy in.

5. Give rewards - LinkedIn rewards include: reciprocity, such as recommending other people and services; social validation in the form of floating the most commented on discussions to the top of the discussion board; and, publicly citing top influencers. This approach actively encourages users to create value and content for the platform. Furthermore, once people are more active, they become more committed. Even simple acts like offering points in exchange for sharing comments or to gain coupons can be an effective tool towards building an audience or increasing positive perceptions of your company and products.

Pharma companies can reward patients in a number of ways, most significantly by listening to them and acting on what they hear. Are patients finding it difficult to swallow a certain medication? Then inform them of what is being done to improve palatability. Perhaps they don’t understand what clinical trials are and whether they should volunteer for one? Then ensure you have easy to understand information available on clinical trials and the pros and cons of participation. There are rewards aplenty if you listen to what patients want.

6. Be active and loyal - Provide up-to-date valuable content, such as LinkedIn’s contact updates and email digests. No one likes to follow a page only to find that the content is old and outdated. There are plenty of ways to keep your audience engaged. This is particularly important for pharma companies as medical research goes through immense changes each day. Keep your audience abreast of what’s new with your company and your products, as well as with health and disease in general. The more active you are - within a happy medium so as not to overwhelm your audience - the more you are likely to build loyalty with your audience. Keep your presence regular, so they know you are there.

7. Be functional - LinkedIn provides the function of business opportunities; what is your function? For all the talk of social presence, the most important thing you need to decide for your company and your audience is purpose. Your online presence needs a purpose - decide what your aim is in creating and maintaining this presence. This will keep your content focused and potentially increase your audience base. Is your purpose to educate? Gather information on side-effects? Or even just to be present within the lives of those utilizing your services? Whatever the case may be, define your purpose and stick to it.

Pharma companies have a lot to learn from LinkedIn, the majority of which is about ongoing interaction and engagement with its users. Creating an effective online presence can open you up to new audiences and new clients, as well as increase your relationship and reputation with your loyal customers.