Social Media for Pharma

I’ve spent the last two days hearing and speaking to experts at the Social Media for Pharma conference and wanted to share some highlights and observations. One highlight was a presentation by Marc Monseau, Director of Corporate Communication, Social Media at Johnson & Johnson. Monseau outlined eight key components to enhancing your online presence: 1) Listening (being the most important), 2) Establishing your role, 3) Identifying key influencers, 4) Establishing policies, 5) Streamlining approval process, 6) Resourcing appropriately, 7) Empowering teams, and 8) Remaining flexible. I couldn’t agree more. These components don’t just enhance your online presence; they are really the recipe for a successful social media strategy. Without listening, for example, you’re missing out on great opportunities. And without clear policies and approval processes in place, you’re not taking full advantage of the insights captured.

Another great talk came from Peter Pitts, Partner/Director Global Regulatory and Health Policy at Porter Novelli and former Associate Commissioner with the FDA. Pitts emphasized the importance of doing the moral thing in social media. While the pharmaceutical business requires more caution about what is said, it is critical to be out there having the conversation. Pitts recommends starting by having your legal team approve the type of content and engagement that is appropriate. He noted that it’s not as important to be able to have a back and forth conversation as it is to be out there and direct people to the right content.

Too often, we hear from pharmaceutical companies that they see the benefits of social media but there is an underlying fear about the legal risks that Pitts points to, which typically are associated with reporting adverse effects they read about online. However, the important thing to realize here is typically only 16-20% of posts in social media have to do with adverse effects and that the benefits of social media to accelerate market awareness and correct any misrepresentations outweigh the risks.

So where do we see social media benefiting the industry?

We believe the two greatest opportunities for social media in pharma reside in innovation and community.

Innovation. That single word can have high costs in a regulated industry. By engaging in social media, your company can gain insight into ideas for new products, campaigns, the ability to identify and create new advocates, and understand market needs to gain insight into what people are saying about competitors’ products. It gives you the opportunity not only to educate your customers, but to be educated by them. There is great value in learning more and being connected to your community in this vibrant 2-way conversation.

Community. The importance of building a community of people who will go to bat for your company in good times and bad is truly priceless. Get out there, build a community – members of these types of communities genuinely want to help and support each other as they manage and cope with different health issues, and therefore could be your biggest advocates. Having a community in place allows for people to voice different experiences when someone posts a negative comment. Having a community of advocates online can help make sure the positive and accurate information is shared in ways that proactively detract from negative comments and mitigate a potential crisis.

There is a quote from Mark Twain that is great to live by in the social media world, “When you need a friend, it’s too late to make one.” Engaging in social media helps build an advocacy program that protects your reputation and leverages public support in good times and bad.

Are you in the pharmaceutical industry? What approach are you taking to embracing social media? Are you experiencing some of the benefits outlined here?