Pharmaceutical social media can be a scary prospect for marketers. It’s a multi-dimensional medium where losing control of the narrative is a real possibility.  But it’s 2019, and consumers expect brands to be available on the media they consume. A well-curated profile can not only allow your brand to lend an ear to questions, but pharmaceutical social media profiles can also act as easy-to-remember contact points for HCPs – so they are not without sales merit. With that said, let’s talk a little bit about audience research in part one of our three-part series on pharmaceutical social media.

If you want to get the most out of your pharmaceutical social media profile, it will help immensely to conduct audience research. If your brand is new, conducting research on your audience’s social media usage doesn’t have to consume additional resources. Simply work in social media usage questions as part of your consumer audience research. If you have an established brand that’s considering entering the social media space, you should have plenty of time to glean insights from first party data or to plan out efficient ways to collect it.

Identify Pharmaceutical Social Media Audiences

The first question that needs to be answered is whether or not it’s worthwhile to produce pharmaceutical social media content for healthcare providers. If the answer is “yes,” then all of your social media offerings will have to make audiences choose the content that speaks to their level of knowledge. This is because the FDA recommends that all materials have a level of sophistication that matches that their audience’s pertinent knowledge (see page 6 here). At the very least, it entails building “Healthcare Professionals” and “Patient/Caregiver” tabs on a Facebook page, or, for Twitter, a completely separate profile. Given that healthcare professionals value more established forms of education and have their own social networks like Doximity and Sermo, they’re probably not interested in your social media profile.

Magnifying glass over row of red person icons

A better question to ask physicians is whether or not they would be willing to reach out to and request a conversation with a sales representative through a pharmaceutical social media profile.

Healthcare professionals are busy people who are constantly being inundated by requests for sales conversations. If, for example, a print advertisement creates interest among healthcare professionals, then including a call-to-action encouraging them to reach out for more information through pharmaceutical social media profile messaging could help generate leads that might have fizzled out otherwise. Since these conversations are anonymous and out of the public view, they can happen through your patient-focused profile.

An automated chatbot can be programmed to ask users whether or not they are a patient or healthcare professional. Conversations featuring those who click “I am a healthcare professional” can be immediately fed into a CRM system. The user will be automatically informed that they will be contacted shortly, and they can continue their busy day.

Learn About Patients’ Social Media Usage

Despite this key function, the primary audience for pharmaceutical social media profiles is patients. If you’re unsure about the right questions to ask, keep it simple at first: ask them what their favorite social media network is. If there’s one outlet that’s particularly important, it’s best to focus your resources on that platform. It’s always better to have one profile that is well-tended-to than to have several neglected shell pages. Quality > quantity.

Even brands with a defined patient profile can benefit from information regarding the browsing habits of patients based on their age, income, and lifestyle. For example, working professionals might only browse from mobile devices during their lunch break or after work, while stay-at-home moms or students may browse on laptops or tablets during working hours. Take advantage of these findings and publish posts during key browsing hours. Doing so can prevent your profile’s posts from being buried by popular posts that emerge closer to browsing time.

Phone with social icons coming out of it

Do they browse social media on apps, or do they split their time between desktop and mobile devices? If they mostly use mobile devices, then your profile will have to be optimized with this in mind. Make sure the website you link to in the ‘About’ section is optimized for mobile devices. It should load in under 3.5 seconds for mobile devices, it should be mobile-responsive, and should not require users to scroll horizontally or resize any element. There are also keyword research implications, which I’ll address in the next article in this series.

Finally, research questions that your patients may have and pre-write answers to them. First and foremost, this is necessary from a regulatory standpoint because any responses to spontaneous communication requests are treated as promotional language (see line 113 of page 3 here).

However, anticipating comments is also important in order to respond to complaints in a timely and tactful manner. If your drug is a high-tier product requiring expensive private insurance with a high co-pay and you make a post speaking to your target audience, your posts may be attacked by others who cannot afford private insurance.  This is an example of losing control of the narrative. To cut back on these complaints, ensure that your brand is providing a patient assistance program and that there is a landing page built to explain that your brand offers savings programs to eligible patients.

Often, disparaging comments will be made by troll accounts that are created simply to stir as many pots as they can. Take a look at their comment history to find out; if they only make negative comments then they likely don’t have many followers and shouldn’t be a serious concern. Pre-write your responses and make sure your employees are prepared to deal with the situation.

Social Media Troll at computer

Nuances of Platform Usage

Your brand’s indication should guide your social media strategy. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Let’s talk about Twitter first. On Twitter conversations about healthcare are quite common, especially among HCPs. It’s common for patients to ask public HCPs profiles questions, and HCPs share opinions and stories with each other. Twitter’s ability to have patients communicate directly with a doctor is superior to Facebook’s group or profile distinction, which is clunky when it comes to making conversations happen between two users on a topic while others spectate. The public nature of these conversations makes them more rapid-fire. Nobody is going to Twitter to dig deep and have prolonged discussions. For that reason, Twitter is best for brands that treat common afflictions and want mass exposure to multiple audiences. 

If, however, your brand treats chronic diseases, then research suggests that Facebook’s health support groups are a better option for pharmaceutical social media profiles.2

Facebook’s health support groups allow anonymous posting of questions in a manner that has been shown to be particularly attractive to people with chronic diseases like obesity and mental illness. People with chronic diseases are especially likely to seek out peer information online—the ability to control their identity, avoid embarrassment, and access stories from other individuals granted them emotional support in all the right ways.2

Another benefit of going the health support group route for pharmaceutical social media profiles is more robust survey options. Facebook group polls allow you to add many different options to a poll, and you can give users the option to add their own option. With standard profiles you can only create two options, and users cannot add their own options to the poll. This difference places even greater importance on audience research for pharmaceutical social media profiles intending to act as a promotional channel.

Assess Platform Viability From Regulatory Standpoint

Lastly, it is important to make sure that your pharmaceutical social media presence is viable in a character-limited context. If you want to advertise a drug with a number of serious risks, then Twitter is not the platform for you.

On this topic, the FDA states:

“If… adequate benefit and risk information, as well as other required information, cannot all be communicated within the same character-space-limited communication, then the firm should reconsider using that platform for the intended promotional message.”3

Pharmaceutical social media puzzle ISI Promotion

For brands with multiple serious risks, pharmaceutical social media superiority claims cannot be balanced by one serious risk disclosure. While the document referenced above provides good guidance on the topic, consider reading this paper as well. It should be able to provide sufficient context for your regulatory concerns.

Remember that pharmaceutical social media is about give and take. The most important factor in getting it right is having a team well-versed in regulatory definitions. Your social media team should be present when these discussions are being had. After all, they are the ones who will make judgment calls about the best way to respond to patients on a daily basis. Take time building or finding  the best team you can because they will ultimately help transform an ordinary social media page into a lead-generation machine.

If you are struggling to find a team that can offer advertising prowess with regulatory knowledge, consider bfw. We’re an experienced agency partner and can help your pharmaceutical social media campaign succeed.

Want to learn more about how to supercharge your pharmaceutical social media strategy? Check out part two on pharmaceutical social media profile optimization.