Ever since Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover of Twitter, social media professionals have been scrambling to determine what the many changes mean for them. The decline in user numbers is one major incentive to look elsewhere for reach.
For biopharma marketers seeking to interact with their patients in a constructive way, the greatest concern is probably the dismantling of community guidelines, which is creating a conversation environment that may not reflect positively on brands. For those weary of Twitter, which has just been renamed “X,” where else can marketers go?
Enter Threads, Meta’s latest addition to its social media nursery. Threads is designed to directly lure away X users by closely imitating its user experience, without the toxicity and volatility. Threads has already demonstrated record-breaking uptake and growth.1 It’s not the only X clone out there.
One relatively prominent X alternative is the so-called “Fediverse,” a network of many small self-hosted networks based on the open-source Mastodon software. Meta is planning for Threads to become compatible with the Fediverse. Whichever way these platforms may evolve over time, it seems quite certain that Zuckerberg’s Threads will become a major thorn in Musk’s side.
Organic Engagement Only
Threads’ initial growth spurt has been helped by the fact that users can seamlessly open an account through their existing Instagram accounts. Threads is available for all Instagram account types, from creators to businesses to personal accounts. Meta has rolled out Threads on iOS and Android across more than 100 countries, with the notable exception of Europe, so its applicability for a global patient engagement strategy is limited. Since usernames on Threads are identical to those on the corresponding Instagram accounts, the risk of “cybersquatting”—where unauthorized users claim the name of your brand—really only exists if your brand does not yet have an Instagram account.
What’s important to know is that once a Threads account is established, businesses won’t be able to delete it without also deleting the Instagram account. Instagram’s Community Guidelines2 apply to all Threads content. Threads does not yet have any ads or monetization features, but we can expect those to be rolled out once consumers have recognized the value of the platform and are including it in their daily media mix. Corporations are encouraged to experiment with Threads, share their content, and engage organically on the platform. In the current version of Threads, search and discoverability are based on a user’s social connections, not on content per se.
Healthcare Is Already on Threads
Healthcare engagement is already happening on Threads. As of writing this article, we have found at least two brands with a presence on Threads. On the enterprise level, we have found at least 21 industry accounts. Among those are well-known industry players, such as Genentech and AstraZeneca, who have established a presence without yet filling it with any content, and others, such as Amgen, who have started to engage and post enterprise-level content. Many patient advocacy organizations, including the National MS Society, have also already turned on the ignition to their brand-new engagement vehicle.
Any brand wishing to build awareness and consideration or to encourage adherence will need a social media strategy. In our estimation, Threads will be an important piece of that. Before deploying a branded presence on the platform, brands should consult with their patient engagement agency to plan out the steps needed to get started. This includes producing mockup content for FDA/OPDP review and establishing or updating internal governance on adverse event and product complaint monitoring, moderation, functionality, and reporting.
The new format, featuring 500-character text-based posts with up to five-minute videos and images, will require slight updates to existing social content guidelines and production processes. Given that users can currently only find organic content, brands engaging now will also need to deploy different reach growth strategies than they would on X or TikTok. Once advertising features are rolled out, organic content can be submitted for regulatory review as ad units.
It’s Not About the Feud
For marketers, it is critical to stay on top of the major changes in the social media landscape. This is particularly true in healthcare. People who are forced to deal with a disease may talk to their doctor, may visit a healthcare-related website, or may see an ad that pertains to them. But what they will definitely do is look around in their network of friends and acquaintances to see if anybody else is going through what they are going through. And for the majority of people today, that includes looking on their social platforms. This is where patients already self-coalesce and where more meaningful engagement may originate.
People working in biopharma care about patients and the health challenges they’re going through. It’s about science and what it can do to lift some of the burden of disease. Why should they care about Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg’s personal feud? They shouldn’t. But they should care about the platforms patients and other stakeholders are on.
Patients, caregivers, HCPs—all of them are seeking answers, sharing experiences, finding information on platforms that connect them in helpful and sometimes detrimental ways. Our industry can make a contribution to basing these exchanges on facts. We can help people find a positive path through a challenging time.