Social media is an anxiety producing endeavor for drug manufactures and healthcare providers, which is why so few even bother to enter this space. However, recent studies indicate that social media is on the move as the industry learns to adapt to vague FDA regulations and discovers the true nature of social behavior.
It’s not even close
Social media is not an ideal platform for drug manufacturers and healthcare providers – it’s not even close. To begin with, the character count on Twitter – at 140 characters – is too slim to fully disclose a drugs benefits and side-effects in a way that will satisfy FDA regulations. While the FDA is somewhat behind the times on issuing policy on pharmaceutical brand ads, it’s 2014 decree indicated that the same basic rules of marketing should apply to social media, too – meaning drug benefits and risks must be clearly disclosed despite the micro-blogging constructs of social media.
Additionally, the social medium creates unregulated discussion that can be unpredictable, negative, misleading or reflect non-scientific conclusions by patients under care. Plus, you’re not wanting to be drawn into two-way conversations online that puts you in a doctor’s advisory role or at risk of violating patient privacy. This could tarnish or mischaracterize your brand. This is all simply to say that your social anxiety is justified.
Despite this, there is a growing number of healthcare providers are turning to social media. In fact, there are currently 334 brands on Twitter, 223 on Facebook, 149 on YouTube and 37 on LinkedIn. (Klick Health, 2017)
So why is social media usage among pharmaceutical and healthcare providers growing?
A recent study claims that 40% of consumers say information found on social media effects the way they deal with their health (Mediabistro). Furthermore, formulary decision-makers at hospitals, IDNs, PBMs, MCOs and ACOs spend as much as 3-hours per day using digital resources to inform their committee work. As for doctors, 60% say social media improves the quality of care delivered to patients. There is more impressive data here, but in terms of reaching an audience, social media’s growing power is undisputed.
They call it a social network for a reason
The feel the motives around social strategy have changed in recent years. There was an inclination to treat Twitter and Facebook as just another advertising publisher or platform, but that’s not the true spirit of social. Social is about sharing and reacting to information. It’s a place where we can participate in discussion. An effective solution is for a brand to associate their treatment with a cause through which a community can be built. For example, when Key Opinion Leader’s become advocates for a treatment instead of simply selling their drug benefits, the dialogue on social media evolves in a more meaningful and human way.
Brands need to build a community through published content and use social platforms to promote the content in paid and non-paid ways. If a social follower encounters a sponsored post about declining health in Alzheimer’s’ patients, they may move to take action in the cause. They may click the ad or post and join the community that the brand is building around a new efficacy or treatment. This may inspire online participation as a family member of someone stricken with Alzheimer’s, as a medical advocate, as a new customer or patient, or simply a recipient of research and thought leadership provided by the brand. This is particularly the case for doctors and formulary decision-makers wanting to educate themselves on prescribed treatments. In growing a community over time with published content and steady social promotion, drug benefits from the brand awareness and avoids the negative trappings that made social so prone to anxiety in the past.
Similarly, the FDA made its 2014 recommendation that social posts include a link taking the reader to additional information that can better advise on a drugs risk and benefits. The natural behavior here is to begin engagement on social, but move the conversation to a website or online journal via a link where long-format information can be shared.
Join the movement or get left behind
There are plenty reasons not to participate in social media, however the upside of cause-based marketing is far more compelling to not be involved. Here are some things you can do today to join the movement:
- Create a cause around the cure, the disease, or the problem you are solving.
- View social as a means to directing traffic to your website, online journal or community forum.
- Integrate paid and non-paid posts in spreading your message. Your authentic brand voice matters and your customers want to hear from you.
- Work with legal counsel to develop a social policy at your company. Be mindful of FDA regulations at all times.
- Be a social listener on Twitter, Facebook, and on patient forums such as Patientslikeme.com. Learn about the things they care about and let them influence your cause.
Lori Goldberg is CEO of Silverlight Digital.
Silverlight Digital is a New York-based digital media agency that adopts a consultative approach to helping healthcare and pharmaceutical brands reach their desired audience online. Working directly with brands and their agency counterparts, Silverlight leverages its programmatic and aggregate campaign data to make smart multi-channel buying decisions, while partnering with brand managers to successfully navigate FDA and legal review processes. As a Premiere Google and Bing Partner, Silverlight Digital receives tier one support from publishers and through direct site partnerships and hosts a popular healthcare client round table at Google’s New York offices each year. In 2017, Silverlight Digital was added to the exclusive Medical Marketing & Media list of top digital agencies.