Why Reddit Is Better Than Traditional Pharmaceutical Market Research

By Brian Atkiss, Director of Applied Intelligence, Anexinet

To understand the patients they target, pharmaceutical companies employ traditional market research methods. Which methods? Interviews, awareness trial and usage studies (ATUs), surveys, and focus groups where patients are asked their opinions. However, these methods are subject to “response bias,” which tends to respond inaccurately and sometimes falsely to surveys and structured interviews. This happens because many patients want others to see them in a positive light and want to please those conducting the research. Of course, sometimes, it’s also simply the way questions are posed. 

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What’s the resolution to this response bias issue? The answer resides with the research method where patient responses are uninfluenced and unfiltered; this is where social listening comes in. Social listening gathers and derives insights from the social conversations occurring among consumers, including patients, online via various social media platforms. 

This unfiltered information is unavailable through other research methods and quick, with the ability to collect thousands of data points in no time. Social listening also provides insight into the nuances of various online patient communities by looking at their attitudes, emotions, topics of conversation, gaps in knowledge, and unmet needs. For the pharmaceutical industry, social listening can look at data for insights such as:

  • Why do customers buy products or a competitor’s products?
  • What are the perceptions of a brand by consumers? 
  • What are the unmet needs of a customer base, and how can they be filled? 

Reddit, A Pharmaceutical Researcher’s Secret Weapon 

One of the richest sources of patient data when conducting social listening in the pharmaceutical space is Reddit. Reddit is a collection of over 100,000 active forums (called subreddits) that cover any topic imaginable and attract 50 million active users daily. Subreddits in the healthcare space address specific conditions, medications classes, and drugs. And let’s not forget about the popular ‘AskDocs’ subreddit in which users can ask a medical question where a verified physician responds. 

Reddit users also typically use anonymous usernames, which empowers patients to share experiences and ask questions they may not bring up in other formats. The specificity of communities on Reddit combined with the anonymity of users, makes it ideal for understanding patients’ experiences.

One of the most common questions analyze when conducting social listening in pharmaceuticals is: What symptoms are patients with a certain condition discussing the most? Here is a real-world Rheumatoid Arthritis, social listening example, in January of 2022, there were 4,827 mentions of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) on Reddit, with most conversations occurring on the following subreddits:

  • r/rheumatoid, n=1,598 mentions
  • r/rheumatoidarthritis, n=662 mentions
  • r/AskReddit, n=78 mentions
  • r/AskDocs, n=64 mentions
  • r/Thritis, m=53 mentions

When considering the number of subscribers to just these top 5 subreddits, the number of people who are potentially seeing posts discussing RA on Reddit in one month is approximately 35 million people. Take this into account with the number of Reddit users who are lurkers (i.e., those who read through subreddits without subscribing), and it’s clear that these conversations have considerable influence.

To answer the question on top symptoms among RA patients, industry analysts use linguistic models that sort the data into relevant posts, in this case, those that mention symptoms. Analysts then use Artificial Intelligence (AI) segmentation of data and a detailed human review of the posts to identify top themes. 

In this case, it is revealed that pain, fatigue, and swelling are the three most discussed symptoms. Below are snippets of patient quotes on Reddit highlighting these symptoms and their impact on patients’ day-to-day lives.

  • Pain: “None of my employers have understood the pain that comes with an RA flare-up, I’ve hurt myself more trying to work out of guilt.”
  • Fatigue: “I will as recently diagnosed with RA and while the pain is just life the fatigue is what is really getting to me… Some days it is so hard to get out of bed. Just doing chores for 30 minutes or playing on the floor with my baby wipes me out.”
  • Swelling: “My fingers were swollen like sausages and the pain was intense, I couldn’t bend or hold anything without intense pain.”

Using these patient quotes, examples of questions to help inform a brand strategy could be:

  • What are patients’ unmet needs?
  • Why are patients selecting competitors over your brand?
  • What do patients consider when choosing a treatment?
  • What are patients’ reactions to current DTC campaigns?
  • What kind of language do patients use when talking about their condition?
  • How has the patient discussion of a certain topic changed over time?

Cutting Through The Noise

Social listening cuts through the noise and finds answers to the questions mentioned above to inform a brand’s strategy. The outcomes of social listening impact everything from manufacturing to marketing and could evolve to:

  • Change drug formulations to make them less painful after patients complained of injection site pain.
  • Use authentic patient language in DTC campaigns after analyzing how patients discussed their condition.
  • Implemented and improved patient support programs after hearing patients were confused about navigating the process of onboarding to a new drug.
  • Change which sites they advertise on after seeing where patients most actively participate online.

The takeaway? By utilizing the most powerful enterprise, social listening tools, analysts can quickly find unfiltered, accurate, and previously difficult to access patient insights. Interfacing with experienced analysts will ensure targeted use of social listening that will help foster competitive advantage and greater commercial viability.

Brian Atkiss is Director of Applied Intelligence at Anexinet. Brian has more than a decade of experience building analytics solutions that generate actionable insights for the Fortune 500, and has an extensive background in social listening and advanced analytics solutions around data integration, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. He helps clients devise strategies to ensure the success of their AI and analytics initiatives.

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