Despite Scandals Social Media Continues to Grow as Marketers Must Make Adjustments

Facebook didn’t have the best year. In the spring, they faced criticism over the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which they provided the political data firm, hired by President Trump during the 2016 election, with private information on more than 50 million Facebook users. Then in October, cyberattacks stole data from 29 million Facebook accounts. And in November, the New York Times published a scathing exposé revealing management’s reluctance to deal with Russian-linked activity on the social media site following the 2016 election.

For Facebook, the news resulted in 42% of users saying they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while 26% deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And yet, it is hard to see Facebook going anywhere.

“Anecdotally, I have heard people declare the death of Facebook, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘I consider such reports to be grossly premature,’” says Terry Nugent, Founder and Principal of T. Nugent & Associates. “It is difficult to predict how pharma marketers will respond to the recent blows to the credibility of Facebook and other social media, but Facebook in particular cannot be ignored. To the extent that usage declines, Facebook and other social media will be of less utility to pharma marketers. However, Facebook has achieved such a massive market share that smart marketers will continue to exploit it for the foreseeable future.”

In fact, eMarketer still forecasts Facebook to have 1.75 billion users as of Nov. 2018. And in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center, the number of American Facebook users aged 65+ has doubled to 41%, which is a prime target for pharma marketers. But even though the audience is still there, pharma will need to alter its approach on Facebook and any social channel due to the recent controversies.

A More Transparent Approach

“The recent scandals surrounding social media companies reinforce, more than ever, the importance for brands to operate in a way that communicates honesty, transparency, and consistency,” explains Amrita Bhowmick, Chief Community Officer, Health Union. “While social media companies and platforms operate within their own rules and regulations, pharma brands have the opportunity to carve out their own codes of conduct to define how they will (and won’t) use these platforms.”

Bhowmick recommends that pharma companies consider three things in order to mitigate the impact of recent scandals:

  1. Create policies that truly put the community first. This includes transparency around the type of content that is or isn’t allowed, how data is utilized, and the use of advertising.
  2. Brands must enforce the rules in a transparent and consistent way. Brands need to show they are following their own rules, and policies must be enforced consistently and fairly.
  3. Brands must take this approach in a way that is honest, human, and focused on relationships, not just the intended outcome. This means answering questions as much as possible, showing complaints are taken seriously, and not simply deleting negative comments without explanation.

“It is one thing for brands to publish a code of conduct; it is another to show a genuine desire to interact and truly engage with people online,” Bhowmick adds. “Brands, in sum, will be forced to live by the motto that actions speak louder than words.”

The Growth of Instagram

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social media site out there, and it’s not all doom and gloom. Overall, social media marketing spending is expected to exceed $17 billion in 2019—an almost $10 billion increase compared to 2014, according to Statista.

And one platform in particular has seen significant growth over the past few years. In June 2018, Instagram joined Facebook and YouTube as the only social platforms with over one billion active users. And, over 80% of accounts on Instagram follow one of the 25 million business accounts on the platform, according to Instagram.

Furthermore, according to a 2018 survey of more than 3,000 Hootsuite customers—from large enterprises to small agencies—64% of respondents have either implemented Instagram Stories into their social strategy or plan to do so in the next 12 months. One reason why: Consulting firm Block Party estimates that Instagram Stories, which are vertical disappearing videos made popular by Snapchat, are growing 15 times faster than feed-based sharing.

Gene Fitzpatrick, SVP, Engagement Strategy, Ogilvy Health, agrees with the growing popularity of this type of content as he says, “Video will dominate dynamic content and more of it will be vertical and live. Additionally, brands need to tell stories. The one-off post or status update will not reach as many or as far as developing a story about the brand or its customers.”

Building the Right Social Media Team

To achieve success in any social channel and to more effectively reach your audience, Partha S. Anbil, Client Partner, Medical Devices, IBM Global Services, Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice, says companies need a cross-functional social media team, one where marketing works together with other departments. To build such a team, he recommends that companies:

  1. Develop a social care team that can address all areas of social information efficiently and effectively. Identify policies and software systems needed for implementation.
  2. Organize departmental responsibilities in the social care team. Clearly define roles and responsibilities among marketing, customer service, public relations, sales, corporate communication, human resources, etc.
  3. Assign specific employees from each department to social media tasks. Set up social media accounts and give employees access to social media systems.
  4. Create brand guidelines for standards, tone, and style of social media communication.
  5. Ask legal and human resources to provide a list of do’s and don’ts for real-time consumer engagement.
  6. Define specific goals based on key performance indicators such as response time, sentiment analysis, engagement, views and shares, and other important metrics.

“Distributing social responsibilities to relevant people across the organization can be efficient, effective, and help make one-on-one customer engagement scalable,” Anbil adds. “Cross-functional social media teams can leverage the stages of the buying cycle, connecting the right employees with the right customers at the right time to achieve powerful results.”


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