4 reasons why pharma can’t ignore social media

Almost 70% of Australians are active on social media networks and one in 20 Google searches are for health-related questions, but pharmaceutical companies lag behind other industries and have yet to embrace social media to engage with healthcare professionals and patients.

Marketing has become a two-way conversation and social media is key to online influence, but pharmaceutical companies are spending up to eight times less than other leading industries on digital marketing, according to digital experts.

Delegates at a recent Sydney event ‘Pharma’s Digital Future’ heard that pharma is missing out on the hyper-targeting capabilities of social networks and that marketing is no longer about shouting brand messages, but creating a conversation with your audience.

Ashleigh Gardiner, digital marketing manager of the Australian Doctor Group, and Pascal Winkler, strategy director and head of Connect at advertising agency The Hallway, shared insights into social media trends and what they mean for the pharmaceutical marketers at the recent Prime Academy event.

The numbers don’t lie

Social is changing the way people connect and consume information, but you need to “go to your audience, don’t make them come to you”, Gardiner told delegates.

With 55% of Australian GPs actively using social media and one in five mobile minutes spent on Facebook or Instagram, marketers need to harness the power of social media.

Communicating to doctors is no different: “People don’t think healthcare professionals do social – that’s wrong,” Gardiner said.

Of the 10.5 million Australians who use the Facebook messenger app, 3.4 million use it as their primary form of communication and 50% of GPs use the app daily.

It’s worth the effort – even if you can’t talk brands

Winkler says clients often ask: “Is it actually worth the effort if we can’t say what we want to say?”

The simple answer is: “Yes.”

Winkler acknowledged the challenge of not being able to talk about products and the lack of rules and control with social media communities, but he said pharmaceutical companies couldn’t afford not to be there.

“Even without mentioning a product directly, you can initiate the conversation around a disease by providing relevant content that addresses the different needs of your target audience.

“Be at the centre of a patient’s disease management by facilitating online support groups and communities where like-minded patients can connect and interact.”

His advice was to monitor brand perceptions, understand how patients manage a disease and find creative angles which make interacting with a campaign emotionally rewarding.

“In this changing landscape, the most innovative marketers who find ways to solve a problem, delight, inspire, or empathise with patients right in the flow of what they are doing, instead of interrupting to push a message to them – will succeed,” Winkler said.

Gardiner agreed and pointed to Novartis World Health Day 2016 to demonstrate the power of social for pharma.

Novartis used Facebook live as part of their “Rise Above Heart Failure” event featuring a panel discussion with music diva Queen Latifah and UCLA cardiologists about the human impact of CHF.

Rather than talking about drugs or brands, the panel’s conversation focused on delivering credible information to empower patients to manage their condition. The event enabled Novartis to provide a trustworthy source of information for patients and also to focus on the human impact of CHF and the impact of non-compliance to treatment.

You don’t need a big budget

Facebook also allows marketers to promote a campaign or educational messages to a custom audience with the potential to reach high numbers at low cost.

This is especially powerful when marketers identify brand evangelists and promote those social posts to a targeted Facebook community.

Winkler also urged marketers to consider the power of video as part of social media campaigns given soaring engagement and not be deterred by a misconception that the cost of production was beyond reach.

He said both ends of the production spectrum performed well, including small-scale, short and “snackable” content for time-poor healthcare professionals.

He said that, ultimately, the message rather than the quality of the creative was important; connect with your audience rather than shout brand messages at them.

It’s time to counter the negative health stories

Gardiner suggested the pharmaceutical industry needed to play a bigger role in countering false health messages and fake news that was putting people’s wellbeing at risk.

She said one in four consumers in the past 12 months consumed health-related content online and 75% of pins on Pinterest were negative stories from anti-vaccination campaigners.

“Social media is really heavily influencing people’s lives,” said Gardiner, adding that one third of Australians made decisions based on information viewed on social media. Patients go to their social network to find answers as well as express concerns and hopes.

She said that patients want quality medical information and that 81% of consumers are interested in receiving pharmaceutical educational from healthcare providers.

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