Earlier this year I led some quantitative research for a biotech startup who wanted to determine if an investment in resources for social media was justified. While the results did vary a little by condition we heard that most people did not want to follow a pharma brand on social media. The only difference was people who wanted information on new drugs and clinical trials. These tended to be patients/caregivers who had chronic conditions and wanted to know about treatment options.
The primary reason that people did not want to have a conversation with a drug company on social media had more to do with privacy than anything else. They did not, for example, want their friends and family to know that they had a condition or were researching information on a certain health condition.
The other issue that came into play was “who would they be talking to ?” Was it a medical person, PR person or somebody else ? It was interesting because during this research we asked for examples of this and some used some diabetes sites where they talk to diabetes educators. Two people mentioned the Enbrel site where they talk to a HCP even though that is not really considered social media.
Does this mean social media for the drug industry is dead ? No. As AZ showed a couple weeks ago you can have a chat around certain aspects of your company/brands. For AZ is was informing patients/consumers on where to get discounts on Rx drugs. What this really tells me is, however, is that unless there is a clear benefit of value to the patient they will not friend a pharma brand on Facebook or engage them on Twitter.
Can pharma get people involved in social media ? Yes if they can provide valuable information that makes people want to join the community but we also have to remember that even if they don’t join the community a lot of people might stop by the page to read what others are saying and read posts. The number one reason people follow brands on social media is to get discounts.
Should you wait for FDA guidelines ? That varies by the amount of risk you’re willing to take. However it is important to remember that in most cases the conversations are happening with or without you. Research is needed by condition, brand and company to determine which market segments would be most responsive to social media efforts.