Why Pharma should Let Go of Social Anxiety

A Pharmaceutical company can suffer from social anxiety. It is the tendency to stay out of conversations within the realm of social media for fear of an unexpected reaction or a negative response. The root of such anxiety is often explained due to regulation or the lack thereof it as well as concerns for a rise in AE Reporting. Yet the volume of adverse events on social media is understood to be low and tools are now available for automating the process. These tools can go some way in eliminating potential resource issues that would otherwise contribute negatively to anxiety levels.  

Regulation is never entirely black and white in the realm of Pharmaceutical marketing and so the same applies to social media. It is a case of adopting a stroke-by-stroke approach rather than missing the boat entirely, which is why many Pharmaceutical companies have entered into it steadily, starting with a particular product, brand or specific therapy area. By staying present, active and engaged, initially on a smaller scale as they learn, Pharmaceutical companies are able to arm patients with the knowledge and content to have meaningful conversations online, share experiences and become active participants in their own care. In turn, Pharmaceutical companies can develop content their audiences want to see and target and re-target users with greater confidence and success. 

Pharmaceutical companies can close the loop in the realm of social media by making the most of all three tools at their disposal: social listening, social engagement and social broadcasting. Through analysis of big data, Pharma can develop and share content that addresses their audience’s needs and interests and subsequently engage with them effectively.  Closing the loop – instead of simply broadcasting and projecting a one-way conversation – should go some way to the development of social intelligence over social anxiety.

Social media can be used proactively and reactively for a number of reasons including company and product-related conversations, disease awareness messaging, education, recruitment, insight generation and influencer identification. In light of the not-to-be-missed Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix (Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened), influencers have been placed further into the spotlight than normal. As the documentary explores, the ‘luxury’ Fyre Festival quickly sold out – an impressive feat for a first-time festival. This was thanks in great part to the endorsement of celebrity influencers, but the reality of the event turned out to be utterly shambolic and contrary to the influencer posts, with the organiser eventually jailed for fraud. In short, it couldn’t have gone more pear-shaped. 

Many influencers again came into the spotlight (and under fire) this year by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for not clearly stating when posts were paid-for endorsements rather than organic ones. However, it is not all bleak in the world of influencers as there is an apparent rise in the ‘micro-influencer’. The micro-influencer is likely to be more relevant to Pharma and are defined as those influencers with a more organic, niche and targeted following. Influencers are increasingly aware of the regulations around what they do and followers themselves are becoming savvier – all positive steps for future messaging and social engagement in the world of healthcare.  

With doctors, patients and Pharma all in some way recognising social media as an impactful channel where meaningful interactions and learning opportunities arise, health and fitness devices, healthcare apps and online communities are all on the rise. Online patient communities such as ‘PatientsLikeMe’ and ‘23andMe’ highlight the value of patient-friendly language and the desire for patients themselves to make informed decisions. Whilst the first covers over 2500 medical conditions and allows patients (such as those with MS or COPD) to get answers, make informed decisions and gain access to patient-driven research opportunities, the second helps the public to benefit from the human genome and gain access to information around their ancestry, genetic health risks, wellness, carrier status and traits. There are also a growing number of online networking communities for doctors and HCPs such as Sermo, all of which provide opportunities for Pharma companies to partner with and garner insights from. 

It is undeniable that health information is being looked for on social media and there are fantastic opportunities for genuine passion and thought leadership to be shared online in this space, both compliantly and optimally. Just as Pharma messaging needs to outline the positives as well as the risks, gaining social media maturity will have its challenges but these in no way outweigh the positive impact of the channel itself – as a powerful tool for insightful patient centricity. 

Devneet Atherton