Social Media for Connecting with Patients


By Andy Smith

Social media is the new mainstream. A new report from Nielsen Co. finds that Americans are devoting almost a quarter of their Internet time on social networking sites and blogs, a 43 percent increase compared to one year ago. In the UK, social media has overtaken every other online activity.

Pharmaceutical companies still rely on traditional media and means of disseminating information magazine, television and radio advertising and displays in the doctors office or waiting room but they shouldnt overlook the value of social networks for connecting with patients and strengthening brand awareness. In fact, by limiting participation on social networks to blasts about new medicines or company news, pharma companies are missing out on an opportunity to better serve patients.

Social medias interactive nature provides patients with the opportunity to become engaged in their own health care, whether thats requesting a particular drug or treatment therapy during a physician visit or carrying product messages back to their own social network. Pharma companies that engage the end consumer the patient can extend their message through a cadre of brand ambassadors.

How can pharma companies increase their social participation? John Mack identified these uses of Twitter for pharma companies, including:

  • Drug/device safety alerts (eg, drug recalls, medical device malfunctions, emerging safety issues)
  • Prescription management, including pharmacy refill reminders
  • Daily health tips from authoritative sources
  • Publishing disease-specific tips
  • Clinical trial awareness & recruitment
  • Enhancing health-related support groups (e.g. buddy-systems for depression)
  • Providing around-the-clock disease management
  • Patient-sharing of health-related experiences
  • Issuing dietary/lifestyle tips

While the Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning to a drug-maker against using Facebook to promote a medication, its beef was that the promotion was incomplete, only promoting the benefits and not the risks. The lesson is that transparency is essential. Beyond promoting a particular medicine, pharma should use Facebook to:

  • Build relationships and spark discussions not as a linear platform for conveying information
  • Provide valuable, informative information not just promotional content
  • Spark one-to-one dialogue, and encourage patients to participate by sharing their own experiences
  • Avoid avoidance; monitor what people are saying and should things go awry, offer clear messages and alternative avenues for getting information
  • Work in tangent with other social networking platforms. Want a YouTube video to go viral? Itll never happen without a coordinated Facebook campaign

Pharma companies shouldnt be afraid of social media its a valuable medium for carrying key messages, building relationships and increasing product loyalty. But thats what it is a medium. What doesnt change is the core work of examining the marketing strategy, crafting transparent and clear messages, and engaging social media to add value and build relationships.



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