Guest Column | October 7, 2016

5 Best Practices To Augment A Pharma Social Media Strategy


By John MacDaniel, senior director, digital and voice of the consumer, Telerx

Although pharma has been active in social media for some time, the industry is still in the relatively early stages of social media maturity. The findings of a recent survey conducted by C3i Healthcare Connections, a Telerx company, confirmed this point. The purpose of our survey among global life science and pharmaceutical professionals was to gain insights on current social media practices within the industry. Only just over a quarter of respondents (27 percent) indicated that they currently find their own social media programs “effective,” and even less said they were “very effective” (13 percent). No respondents described their programs as “extremely effective.”

As patient centricity continues to move into the foreground, it is increasingly necessary for companies to identify compliant methods to safely — and effectively — engage, support and learn from key stakeholders through social media platforms. In order for the life sciences industry to raise the bar on their social media programs, increase program success, and advance to the same level of maturity as other industries, integration and innovation needs to occur.

Based on our research, these five key factors are expected to drive social media participation in the life sciences industry over the next 18 months.

1. Focus on integration

Integration and collaboration are extremely important in the early phases of strategic planning. The survey results indicated that roughly half of respondents have developed a corporate social media strategy, and far fewer have developed other critical policies, such as formal interactions training for those working in social media, escalation procedures and adverse event monitoring and triage guidelines. Ensuring objectives are directly tied to broader strategies, and not developed as an isolated venture, is critical to the success of utilizing social media as a part of your overall strategy.

Combining social media data with traditional data sources, including CRM data and data from patients and providers, and market research for companywide insights can be very valuable. The volume of data generated within social media can feel at times overwhelming. In addition, mapping out these processes — linking data from divergent systems, and then integrating this data — can seem daunting from a logistical perspective. In our survey, 36 percent cited concerns with integrating social media with other channels and touchpoints (phone and email, for example) for insightful reporting from an operational perspective. However, companies that start by identifying and implementing the best ways to structure social media activities across their organization to promote collaboration, with clearly defined objectives, will be able to utilize social media insight to support other data-driven initiatives. Specifically, social media data can help support new product and reformulation launches, offer new insights for corporate reputation and competitive analyses, or further define trends on quality-related issues.

2. Embrace regulation

The fear of uncovering adverse events (AEs) has been a primary regulatory concern in the life sciences industry for some time. In our survey, one-third of respondents cited finding AEs and implementing a process to report them as a social media concern. While complying with necessary drug safety requirements may seem challenging, implementing clear and manageable processes, like those that triage and transfer AEs to pharmacovigilance teams, can help alleviate these concerns. Regardless, pharma is responsible to monitor comments that are left as a result of content that they produce, so having these plans in place is necessary. Once processes are in place to ensure social AE monitoring requirements are met, pharma can begin to look to the broader social media space and begin to implement a proactive approach to AE monitoring — allowing them to discover valuable product and patient behavior insights, as well as identify trends and early warning signs, to augment risk strategies.

3. Start with what is required and manageable

As organizations and brand teams see value in expanding their social media presence, pilots and individual projects are the best path for new ventures. Begin with narrowly scoped projects, such as social monitoring on one of your current social media assets, to glean insights, gain experience, and test best practices.

Remember, presence on and participation in social media should be tied directly to goals. It is less critical to have a presence on every social platform than it is to select and focus efforts that will help meet business objectives. Understanding and leveraging the nuances of specific channels is necessary to a successful platform strategy.

4. Structure for success

Forty percent of our respondents indicated they have no social media roles currently staffed. It is likely that their brand or marketing personnel are handling social media activities as part of their responsibilities. As social media participation grows, we’re expecting to see more centralized social media hubs, dedicated social media roles, and specialized social partnerships to fill gaps and accelerate progress.

Some companies are finding a centralized social media function is the best approach. Under this design, core functions and decisions regarding social strategy, technology, and governance are consolidated under a single group, while execution and implementation efforts are left to individual brand teams. Others have begun to engage specialized social media partners that can help fill gaps and accelerate progress by sourcing social technology solutions, providing regulatory insights, and designing social processes and engagement guidelines.

5. Drive patient-centricity through engagement

An emphasis on the patient will see an increased focus on customer service through social platforms, accompanied by greater productivity and the need to operationalize social media work that is being done to support digital strategies. Deeper audience targeting, such as targeting of specific patient profiles, will also emerge as key stakeholders become the focus of social listening and engagement efforts.

Having honest and meaningful conversations on social media is critical to success. Processes need to be identified up-front to identify when to engage through social platforms, when to take a conversation offline, and when to refrain from engaging altogether. Expected scenarios should be mapped out so compliant engagement can be delivered in timely manner — i.e., minutes, not days.

Industry expectations, patient needs, and technology are constantly evolving, and as they do, life sciences organizations need to evolve with them.

For more information or to download a full copy of the social media benchmarking report, please click here.

John MacDaniel has more than 25 years of experience in the contact center industry. Since 2008, John has focused much of his attention on social media, with a bent on defining and expanding the contact center’s role in supporting brand social media initiatives. He works with a number of Fortune 500 companies, helping them leverage their contact center operations to provide engagement and monitoring, and providing them a reporting solution that analyzes social media and traditional contact center activity.