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.

Learn About Patients’ Social Media Usage

Patients are likely active on social media in some way, shape, or form.

HCPs are likely to be on social media too, but your best option to create messaging for them will be on LinkedIn. We’ll cover that in a follow-up article after this series concludes.

There are a few ways to learn about patients’ social media habits.

Ask Them About It

The best way is to ask them how they use social media in focus groups. 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.

Research Each Platform Individually

Each platform has a variety of ways to find out about patient activity. Your agency partner will be able to assist you by using tools like Sprout and Hootsuite.

Find out about the content that they engage with the most. Is it short and simple? Humorous? Or support-focused? Most likely, you’ll find that other profiles and support groups have a mix of both.

It’s also important to find out how much video content is out there.

Video content is excellent for social media because it performs well on mobile phones, which is where most social media activity happens.

Phone with social icons coming out of it

Because of this, it’s important to 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.

Inform Findings With Keyword Research

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).

Finding out these questions as early as possible will give copywriting, marketing, and regulatory teams plenty of time to prepare.

Anticipate Reactions

Discovering which comments are likely to be made on your posts is also a good idea. You’ll be able to respond to certain comments or (unfortunately) complaints in a timely and tactful manner.

High formulary tier products might come under attack from those cannot afford private insurance. It’s unfortunate, but you can still prevent losing control of the narrative. 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.

Remember too, that if you’re creating a Facebook then you should look into Instagram, too. Since Facebook owns both platforms and can connect the two, the extra work is worth the reach.

TikTok and Youtube

TikTok and Youtube are also options, but require a much higher level of involvement. Regularly producing video is time-consuming, but can pay off if the niche is right.

It’s important to remember that TikTok is a short-form platform. Videos over 10 seconds aren’t going to get watched nearly as often.

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.