Can pharma really leverage social media?

A Mediabistro survey showed that social networks influence more than 40% of people’s health choices. Tik-Tok, Instagram, and other social media channels may soon be overwhelmed with pharma companies’ content, but is it a good idea?

 People between 18 and 24 years of age tend to discuss health and wellness issues on social networks twice as much as those between the ages of 45 and 54 (, and of those between 18 and 24 years of age, 90% say they trust medical information shared on social networks.

According to MedData Group, 72% of physicians surveyed were active on Facebook weekly, and 38% were active on Instagram and LinkedIn weekly. The types of professional content on Facebook that physicians are most likely to engage with include continuing medical education opportunities (37%) and physician online community information (31%).

Pharma companies have policies that heavily restrict their use of social media and limit their ability to benefit from the wealth of data that could accompany it. Most regulatory and legal people severely restrict the use of social media by DTC and HCP marketers, but social media can be of help.

First, pharma marketers must understand what social media can and can’t do and that its use does not apply to all health conditions and brands. The second issue is to ensure that someone monitors social media analytics to see who engages with the brand. A check of some Tweets by pharma showed that, for example, most of the followers were industry people.

But for social media to be successful within pharma, marketers need an in-depth understanding of what online health seekers are looking for. Posting the same message repeated on websites and TV spots isn’t going to work, but having a post tailored to seekers’ needs can be successful.

To test this, we did a small campaign for a psoriasis product. Rather than mentioning the brand, we sent a Tweet with “learn about the side effects of new products to treat psoriasis,” which linked to a page within the product website on side effects. It wasn’t easy to get through M L R, but it drove traffic to the brand page, with more than 60% of visitors viewing three pages.

What about social media options?

Tik-Tok and Instagram are getting a lot of buzz, but that’s with a much younger demographic audience. According to the CDC, prescription drug use increases with age, from 18.0% of children under age 12 to 85.0% of adults aged 60 and over. People 55+ are least likely to use Tik-Tok and Instagram.

It’s also imperative to understand that a social media post is NOT, alone, going to lead to a new Rx. The path to getting a patient to ask for an Rx involves a lot of stops online, and they all have to work together to convince them that the advertised drug can solve their problem.

When it comes to HCPs, the keyword seems to be “data.” HCPs don’t want promotional messages; they want complex drug data and statistics on patient outcomes. Bombard doctors with promotional messages, and you’re going to lose.

Even among CPG products, social media success has been spotty. We’re also learning that some social media platforms are having many issues with the accuracy of their analytics.

For pharma to be successful on social media, it needs to understand better what people are looking for and get out of the mindset of “marketing” and more in the philosophy of “helping” and “listening.”