Social media and pharma marketing

mouseecg50-300x300Post Summary: While the use of social media by consumers has been increasing the FDA still has not issued social media marketing guidelines but even without these guidelines pharma marketers have to ask the question “do patients really want us as part of the conversation?”.  In conducting qualitative research on the use of social media in healthcare decisions by patients we found that the use of social media varies by condition and patient population.  However, social media can provide drug marketers with invaluable real time insights into patient populations.

Over the last 2 years I led a lot of research into both how consumers use social media for health and what they do with the information.  Here is a summary of some key findings:

(1) The use of social media for healthcare decisions is contingent upon both where patients are in their search for health information and the health condition itself.  For example, some health condition searches are just a search for what and treatment options while others warrant more support (caregivers, cancer, diabetes).

(2) Patients want to understand others experiences around treatment options and living with chronic conditions.  However, social media does usually not play a big part in choosing treatments; it usually leads to more questions that users will research online to verify the information.


(3) There is growing anxiety with privacy on social media when used for health.  This was true across all demographic segments.

(4) Some health conditions have very strong patient advocates who tend to be very active on social media.  These people tend to want to share their personal experiences and help others get the information they are looking for.

(5) Caregivers, especially use social media to help as they look for ways to reduce stress.


(6) By a wide margin most social media users do not want to have a conversation with a pharma company without an understanding of who they would be talking to.  However, they expect brands to be on social media in case they have questions.  Note that most of the questions would be around drug discounts and tips on how to better manage their health but there is a fine line between “intrusion” and marketing.

(7) Most would use social media to read posts, but very few would actually participate in the conversation.  Reason: privacy


(8) There is a huge opportunity for online patient communities to unite people in the conversation around health conditions.  However, it is really condition specific.


1ne: Consumers, and patients, want to be heard and social media gives them a much needed voice.  Even without FDA guidelines marketers should be developing a process to listen to conversations, identifying opportunities, and responding in Internet time via content or patient ed materials.

2wo: Before investing money into social media marketers should conduct in depth research with their target audience to identify opportunities to help patients get answers.


3hree: Patients want to know who they are talking to on social media so it’s essential to have a real person as the voice of your brand.  For example, a diabetes social media program could feature a diabetes educator.

4our: Understand where people are in their search for online health information.  The use of online health information varies by stage (i.e. prediagnosis/diagnosed).  You wouldn’t have the same conversation with a prospect as you would to someone who is already on therapy.

5ive: While trust in pharma remains low patients expect you to be there if they have a question or suggestion.  For example, one woman asked why samples of an arthritis drug were bubble packaged because she had a hard time getting the medication out of the foil.

6ix: Patients generally want to know what, how and why while caregivers need information to help them better manage caring.

So, should pharma make the leap into social media?  There is no one blanket answer to that question.  It really depends on the health condition and attitudes of the patient population.  Rather than guessing get out there and do some research to better listen to your audience and identify their needs.  Isn’t that what marketing is about?