The do’s and don’ts of social media marketing in Pharma

The do’s and don’ts of social media marketing in Pharma

The pharma and life science industries were hesitant to use social media as a marketing tool. Obviously, there are huge benefits to social marketing in Pharma, as with any type of business: a direct line to consumers, messaging control, instant feedback, competitor analysis, and the richer, more nuanced data that sentiment analysis can bring in.

Life Sciences brings challenges that your average estate agent, breakfast cereal manufacturer or small-batch artisanal brewery doesn’t when it comes to the strict regulations governing pharmaceutical communications. All claims must be verifiable and not misleading, and adverse drug events must be reported, which adds a layer of complexity to managing social media interactions. Privacy and patient confidentiality are serious concerns. Social media is international, and regulations can change vastly from market to market. Even in the UK, while still operating under the MHRA, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have subtly different standards for marketing pharma products and services. Wales requires bilingual marketing materials in Welsh and English. Northern Ireland, aligning closely with EU regulations post-Brexit, may enforce stricter data privacy standards. In England, where prescription charges apply, marketing might highlight the cost-effectiveness of products, differing from strategies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where prescriptions are free.

Despite these obstacles, the potential for educated engagement and community building is vast. Pharma and other Life Science businesses should be paying more than lip-service to it. It just needs to be approached with real nuance.

In this post, we'll highlight some of the best and worst practices with real-world examples to help guide your social strategy.

Best Practices

Educational Content

Pharma companies can leverage social media in one of the most effective ways by providing valuable educational content that informs their audience. Johnson & Johnson's blog and social channels are a great example, where they break down complex health topics into easy-to-understand language. It has helped Johnson & Johnson establish a reputation as a trusted source of health information from a consumer’s point of view, educate the public, and foster trust in the brand — an essential component in the healthcare industry.

Community Engagement

Creating online patient communities around specific diseases can provide much-needed support and resources. Buzz Radar showed this in action through our work with ViiV Healthcare, an HIV medication specialist. We helped them become a much louder voice in the conversation and online community around HIV.We helped ViiV significantly refine its audience engagement by focusing on both day-to-day content planning and social media presence at industry events. It worked, too—within three years, ViiV increased its audience size by 52%, total engagements by 39%, and positive mentions by 80%, becoming the leader among its competitors.

Transparency in Trials

Social media offers an opportunity for pharma companies to be more open about their research and development. Pfizer is a great example of leveraging social channels to communicate about their drug development process openly. Through their ‘Get Old’ campaign, Pfizer not only shares engaging content about healthy ageing, but also provides regular updates on the progress of their clinical trials, giving people a behind-the-scenes look at the R&D process, from early research to FDA approvals. It helps to demystify what can often seem like an opaque and complex system.

Sharing trial milestones, participant stories, and researcher insights on social media humanises the drug development journey. It shows the public the care and rigour that goes into bringing new medicines to market. This transparency is crucial for building trust in both Pfizer as a company and in the industry as a whole. By making their R&D efforts more accessible and relatable through social media storytelling, Pfizer is setting a powerful example of how pharma can use these platforms to educate, engage, and build public confidence in the important work of developing new treatments.

Authentic Influencers

Partnering with influencers who have a genuine connection to the brand or health condition can lend credibility. Teva Pharmaceuticals works with healthcare professionals and real patients to share stories about their products. Choosing relevant micro-influencers over celebrities makes the content feel more authentic, such as people living with the conditions the drugs are treating. This approach has the dual benefit of creating relatable content and empowering individuals by sharing their real-life experiences. It also encourages a sense of community and connection, which can be particularly valuable for patients who may otherwise feel isolated by their health challenges. Yes, this helps engagement and does so extremely effectively, but it also generates trust and loyalty among an audience.

Worst Practices

Overpromoting Products

It can be tempting to overly push products on social media, but hard sells often backfire. Repeatedly posting about a drug without substantive educational information comes across as too promotional and turns audiences off. Instead, focus on adding value through information or stories that resonate on a personal level. Engagement should always be prioritised over direct sales pitches. A more subtle approach, where the product is part of a larger, valuable conversation, is more likely to foster a positive response from the audience.

Ignoring Concerns

If patients raise issues or side effects on social media, ignoring or, even worse, deleting these comments destroys trust. It's crucial to address concerns head-on, in a compassionate and informative manner. Pharma companies must have strategies in place to manage adverse event reporting and provide clear guidance on how to proceed. Responsiveness not only demonstrates commitment to patient well-being but also complies with regulatory requirements. Engaging with the community shows that the company values feedback and is dedicated to continuous improvement. Transparency and dialogue can improve customer relationships and enhance the overall perception of the company’s commitment to health care.

Misleading Information

In an age plagued by misinformation, both accidental and deliberate, when people often share attention-grabbing content without any real sense of its validity, this one is absolutely crucial. Any medical claims or data shared on social media must be rock-solid. Even unintentional inaccuracies about benefits can attract regulatory scrutiny and damage credibility. Vet all scientific statements carefully with your medical and legal teams. We saw this again and again at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when valid and completely fabricated concerns about vaccines flew around the internet with equal prominence. Failing to address these properly could immeasurable harm.

Flouting Regulations

File this one under “really shouldn’t need to be said” — nevertheless, it’s an important consideration and it’s naive to think that no Pharma company has ever flouted regulations in its marketing. There’s a reason that Pharma marketing is heavily regulated, and those rules still apply on social media. Failing to include necessary safety information or disclaimers is a common compliance pitfall that can incur severe penalties. Make sure your social team is well-versed in all relevant laws like FDA guidelines in the US and MHRA rules in the UK.

As with any marketing practice, the key is striking the right balance of adding value through helpful content, fostering community, and remaining transparent while still operating within industry regulations. By learning from the successes and missteps of others, you can optimise your own social media marketing to build trust and meaningful connections with your audience.

At Buzz Radar we’re committed to helping the Pharma industry make the most of the wealth of data and opportunities that the social world brings in safe, responsible and effective ways. Drop us a line if you’d like to talk through ideas and see how we can help.

Published on 2023-04-18 15:30:02