Three Reasons Pharma Marketers Should “Like” Social Media

@Spitz was excited to recently review a terrific new resource for pharma marketers, and is now pleased to feature a guest blog post by their CEO, who makes a compelling case for the power and potential of healthcare social media, especially in the patient space: 

By Gideon Mantel, CEO and Co-Founder, Treato

We hear so many objections about why pharma marketers should not be in involved in social media; regulators determine what and how they are allowed to advertise, physicians prescribe the medications, and insurers pay most of the bill. Compared to this controlled environment, the social media world is practically the Wild West, so why take a chance on it?

There are three main reasons pharmaceutical marketers need to be involved in social media, two for immediate impact and one looking ahead to the future.

Reason #1: Increasing Adherence

The issue of adherence is not going away, and the countless new mobile apps and education programs are just starting to make a dent. When patients don’t stick to their medication regimen, the damage to their health, the overall economy, and the pharma company’s bottom line are all significant.

The Internet is not just a place for people to research cold hard facts; social media is a place for people to share their stories – what medications they have taken and more importantly how they worked. How the medication(s) made them feel. What side effects they may have experienced, and how severe. Let’s look at several patient posts about a depression medication aggregated by Treato.com:

“Zyprexa helped my depression when other antidepressants quit working by themselves.”

“The zyprexa helps me sleep great and the lithium stabilized my depression.”

“…been taking 15mg Zyprexa for almost 3 years and it helps me alot with the mood swings.”

When other patients read stories like this, they get positive reinforcement about the drugs they take, and it has the potential to positively influence their adherence. People are no longer limited to their immediate geographic network of friends and acquaintances – they can see and engage with patients similar to them across the globe.

Since one of the main reasons people stop taking medications is due to side effects, social media is a great way to enable patients to see for themselves that they are not alone in the side effects they are experiencing. And then make the positive decision to stick with the medication in spite of its effects.

Using a service like Treato, pharma marketers can gather all of these stories together and explore ways to leverage these testimonials for increasing patient adherence.

Reason #2: Patients’ Increasing Impact on Drug Choice

Until recently, the doctor was both the influencer and decision maker with regard to which drug a patient would be prescribed. Today, patients go straight to the Internet with their new diagnosis, looking for advice, opinions and suggestions about treatment courses they should request from their doctor. The awareness about drug choice is increasing, and social media is one of the main channels where this conversation is happening. The following example of one patient post (out of many) demonstrates this effectively:

“I originally started out taking flexeril which worked pretty well. Then I went to the ER one night and they switched me to Robaxin. It doesn’t seem to do anything for me. I want to ask my doctor to switch me back, but I wanted to get some opinions on the two medications. Any opinions or suggestions?

Meet the new decision maker – the patient.

Without understanding social media, pharma marketers could potentially lose a significant opportunity. Patients are out there, discussing their pains, swapping stories about treatments, looking for guidance. Pharma marketers need to — at first — simply listen and understand these voices. Start by identifying the key web sites where the discussions relevant to their brand take place. Then listen and understand what patients are saying about their brands, their competitors’ brands, why they switch from one to the other. This information is invaluable in informing the content of DTC campaigns, which, dare I say, may even include offering coupons on the very sites where these discussions take place.

Reason #3: Get Ready for the Regulators’ Social Media Revolution

The power of the Internet will not go unnoticed by pharma regulators forever. While significant limitations on pharma communication exist today, I predict that the Internet channel will open up in the next five years. Any pharmaceutical company that does not have their online program fully developed by that point will have some major catching up to do.

It takes time to identify the key online sites, the top influencers, to generate thought leadership content. This time should be invested now, while pharma online presence is in its infancy, and not several years from now, when your agile competitors will be swallowing your Internet following as a mid-day snack.

In my presentations, I always give the example of a senior executive at one of the leading travel agencies saying ten years ago, “I just don’t see executives going online to buy flight tickets.” Famous last words. Now, go west pharma marketers, the answer is on line.

Gideon Mantel is CEO and co-founder of Treato, a new platform of patient intelligence based on online discussions about real life experiences. To date, over a billion patient discussions from forums and blogs have been analyzed, generating the collective patient voice for the very first time. Follow Gideon on Twitter, and leave your comments below! 

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Michael Spitz , known most often as just "Spitz," is Editor-in-Chief of the Pixels & Pills and a prollific tweeter, blogger, and article writer, active in digital health across all specialties. Follow him @SpitzStrategy.

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