A few weeks ago, we were lurking on a #hcsmeu chat where one of the posters asked about the future of social media and pharmaceutical companies. What followed was an interesting discussion, peppered with the right ratio of cynicism (if pharmaceutical companies embrace social media, do they then have to embrace social morals and responsibility?) and optimism (pharmaceutical companies goals are to increase business and patient care, if social media is the way to do this then they will) that made for a really informative exchange of opinions.
The relationship between social media and pharmaceutical companies is and always will be a contentious one thanks to the very nature of the health industry. However, that’s not to say pharmaceutical companies should be ostracised from the social media bubble. In fact, there have been some very good social media efforts social by some pharmaceutical companies.
Despite the success of a few, the path to social media success is fought with more obstacles than for other industries. In fact 90% of the pharmaceutical industry is still inactive on social media. And for good reason, the pharmaceutical industry has strict regulations to adhere to. In August, the American organisation PHARMA called for the FDA to publish guidelines on advertising and promotion via social media, arguing that ‘Fair Balance’ (the requirement of pharmaceutical companies to publish warnings about adverse side effects and risks alongside any mention of a drug) and the publication of adverse event reports is impossible in a social media context thanks the challenges posed by moderating comments on Facebook and Twitter.
For some Pharmaceutical companies, there used to be an easy solution: having closed walls on company Facebook pages and thereby not allowing any external comments, but thanks to a change in Facebook policy in July which declared that engagement is key, that is no longer possible. This move prompted Johnson and Johnson to pull four of its Facebook pages and Astrazeneca (who make some anti-depressants) to pull its Facebook presence entirely. Companies are concerned that commenters will post about adverse side-effects, off label use of drugs and inappropriate comments.
Despite the recent setbacks, there is still a serious intention among pharmaceutical companies to move into the realm of social media and digital marketing. Cuttingedge found that social media has made the largest gain in pharmaceutical companies’ media marketing mix in 2010, spending rose by 53.9% from 6.3 % of the mix to 9.7%!
But let’s not assume that this is an indication that Pharmaceutical companies are fully prepared for social media just yet, what they are doing is more akin to testing the water. There still remains the problem of demonstrating ROI, a notoriously difficult practice (for all companies) when it comes to social media since no proven hard metrics can trace the transition of investment into revenue.
That’s not to say that pharmaceutical cannot benefit from the measurement of an increase in subscriptions and ‘likes’ as a result of their social media campaigns, or even from social media campaigns that aim to increase brand sentiment but it can be a problem to explain to investors that it is worth relinquishing some of their cash on something that will not necessarily result in a direct increase in patient prescriptions in real terms and using only soft metrics to trace success.
The cutting edge strategy contains useful advice for pharmaceutical companies wishing to up their social media game and makes for some encouraging reading (the report can be accessed here) and is a sign that the Pharmaceutical industry is taking positive steps towards a future where pharmaceutical companies integrate themselves into social media in a way that both company and patients can reap the rewards.Tags:#hcsmeu, Astrazeneca, Facebook, Fair Balance, Health, Johnson and Johnson, Moderation, Patient Care, PHARMA, Pharmaceuticals, ROI, social media