Even with drug makers' recent increases in digital spending, the pharmaceutical industry is repeatedly said to be a laggard in terms of its speed in adoption of social media.
Among the 50 largest manufacturers worldwide, more than half still do not use it to actively engage consumers or patients. Most of them use social media as a unilateral broadcasting channel and no more than ten are on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Pharmaceutical companies largely avoid involvement, cowering from regulatory wrath. They fear a loss of messaging control, privacy concerns and a lack of familiarity with community building. In addition, they struggle to quantify a return on investment.
So how do you actually know what physicians are saying about your drug? Can you identify the top ten fears of patients suffering from the conditions treated by your market leading product?
I bet you can't.
But you can.
You're missing out on a untapped route to understanding attitudes towards health treatments. Social research gives you an unprecedented opportunity to understand and reach traditionally hard-to-reach populations.
Even if you can't actively participate in the social media sphere, you should at least listen.
Building a strategy to foster discussions with your stakeholders
Understanding your stakeholders' key demographics has never been more valuable for pharmaceutical companies. For example, Pharmiweb, recently analysed thousands of mentions online using Brandwatch to understand people's attitude towards HIV treatment to inform targeted messaging.
Their market research target group is often seen as being the Healthcare Professional, but in terms of social research, it's the patients, caregivers and other online authors who offered the most powerful insights.
Research revealed that the general public spoke almost three times more about HIV treatment than healthcare professionals, indicating a general interest in the topic and that online influencers may differ from offline.
So where does your brand fit into that?
Segmenting authors by social network and by a variety of demographic criteria helps with building a marketing strategy to reach them in the right place at the right time - with the right message. Cliché, but true.
In this case, research revealed that even though most HIV treatment chatter took place on Twitter, patients are the most likely author group to talk on online forums where they can speak anonymously to peers.
However, a lot of patients were also active in open HIV discussions on Twitter, suggesting an opportunity for building public online patient advocacy.
In order to inform messaging around treatment, you could carry out a more granular analysis to understand what benefits and concerns people are most likely to share. Tapping into their natural interests could help to boost your WOM.
In this case, the single largest concern is medication management, due to the strict timing and number of tablets and pills that need to be taken. A new web application designed to help with this could be launched in association with the brand. Patients active on Twitter can then be invited to trial the app and advocate for such a service.
The key perceived benefit of treatment is to reduce the likelihood to pass on the HIV virus. However, HIV benefit treatment discussions vary among key author groups. Journalists mainly focus on the most newsworthy treatments claiming to be potential cures, whereas patients are far more frequently talking about the impact on their life, allowing them to live normally.
This knowledge can be crucial for pharmaceutical companies, and messaging should be tailored accordingly. For instance, when you're creating content aimed at raising awareness through news channels, focus on the benefits that appeal to journalists and general consumers the most (e.g. long term remissions and reduction in transmission of the virus).
There's no such thing as having a remarkable product without having tailored marketing strategies that appeal to your own audience. Forget the mass market, segment and evaluate healthcare conversations by different author groups, find out what they are talking about and how your brand can fit into that.
Researchers, physicians and medical professionals all have made great strides in treating health issues. While social media is not a panacea, it provides an arguably underused opportunity to understand and foster discussions with all people with health concerns.