Social Media’s Role in Pharma Communications in 2014

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Just a few short years ago, pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t in their wildest dreams have considered leveraging social media for consumer marketing purposes. But now with consumer expectations, demand and appetite, dramatically changing, Pharma has been put on notice. The viability of social as a channel has shaped a new form of communication across the globe. Gone are the days of consumers being satisfied with one-way dialogue. The social web has promulgated a transparency between brand and consumer the likes of which have never been seen and Pharma can no longer be the exception. Still, this shouldn’t be something CMO’s and Brand Managers cringe at, on the contrary, this shift in communication should be welcomed.

Though social may not result in legal and regulatory becoming more lax overnight, they must become more inclusive. Consider the FDA, who just a few weeks ago, announced a predominately positive stance on social media. The definition of an AE does not extend as far as we all had originally anticipated and a brand’s responsibility for social communication has been significantly reduced.

This monumental communications shift is still in its infancy but branded social experiences, such as Gilenya and Lunesta, have already amassed thousands of fans on Facebook while Boehringer-Ingelheim has succeeded in generating widespread engagement by using conferences and events as venues for live tweeting and Q&A. What’s more telling perhaps, is the way these social experiences have impacted the larger conversation. They are the first branded Pharma properties to invite two-way dialogue and they’ve increased brand related conversation across the entire web, not only on their respective properties.

Extrapolate these results out over time and expand them to include more integrated tactics with paid media and a case can be made for more robust social strategies and tactics. Aside from the obvious external benefits, which include building awareness and informing preference, social can provide more immediate patient care, better access to information, greater adherence, connectivity of patient populations and more efficient dissemination of knowledge. Internally, social can help support stakeholder alignment, corporate communications, recruiting, culture and advocacy. The real-time element of social and the ability to scale messaging globally make it not only impactful, but time relevant and highly efficient.

That said, there is a risk. We all know this. But it can be mitigated exponentially by implementing processes ahead of time so brands aren’t scrambling to address collateral damage in the form of negativity or AEs. The belief is that, brands are starting to realize, the benefits far outweigh the risks and social is more than a gaudy accessory, it’s a necessity. With that knowledge, steps are being taken to create the foundation necessary to scale social efforts across organizations, therapeutic areas and global economies.

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