DTC: Is social media really an option?

optionPOST SUMMARY:  I just received the preliminary findings from some qual research that was conducted this weekend in four cities within the US. The objective of the research was to determine if current patients, those taking at least one Rx for a health condition, were interested in engaging a pharma company on social media.

I just received the preliminary findings from some qual research that was conducted this weekend in four cities within the US.  The objective of the   The initial findings…

(1) Older patients, those 45+ are confused about how social media sites “shares” their data and are very concerned that friends and family could see that they have visited a health condition site.

(2) Younger patients 25+ will use social media to read what others are saying health conditions, but the need for information centers around living with the condition and treatment options (fewest side effects vs. cost).

(3) Most would NOT follow a pharma on social media.  The reasons given: lack of trust to present truthful information around their products, followed by “I just don’t see the value”.


(4) Patients trust “other patients like me” but when we specifically asked if it would be OK if drug companies “listened” some were very uncomfortable unless it was made clear that the information mined would be anonymous (without name).

(5) Online communities are still a valuable resource, but “getting to the information they want and need” can prove difficult is a maze of posts.

(6) In general Internet users are often overwhelmed with social media updates.  They use their mobile devices to stay on top of their online lives, but disease management is often NOT part of that.


Finally, we heard loud and clear that online health resources should be there when they are needed by users.  To my surprise some people said that that they thought that online ads that follow them on other websites “were creepy”.  Users also said that they would NOT rely on a pharma website to make a healthcare choice but, rather go to different sites to verify information.  There were also a lot of comments about the content within pharma product websites being too “medical” and not “helping me understand the real risks”.


This research is consistent over the last two years, although the privacy issue seems to be getting more attention.  I don’t see these findings as a reason to avoid social media, rather I see it as an opportunity to break through and really help people sort through conflicting information online.  Companies like Sanofi, which have dedicated social media people, have proved that it can be done, but it depends on the specific needs and behaviors of each health condition.

If more and more pharma companies are to receive the Pharmaguy Social Media award they need to do research and learn by doing and failing.  Social media CAN be part of an integrated initiative to reach patients, but we need to set clear expectations and realize that the best relationships take time.