In the 2010s, social media’s role in pharma, healthcare, and our day-to-day lives expanded exponentially. What started off as a way to share personal or business updates has evolved into an essential part of pharma operations. Even today, the role of social media is constantly growing and taking new forms, especially with younger audiences exploring new platforms.
When we think about social media in pharma and healthcare, many will think of using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for marketing purposes or to spread awareness of a disease or treatment. Beyond these traditional uses, many companies, agencies, and societies are now also leveraging social media for medical education, social listening, and patient support groups.
In the era of social media influencers trying to sell everything from weight-loss shakes to sports cars, an interesting niche of healthcare influencers is emerging. These influencers are not necessarily getting paid to advertise products like their fashion or fitness counterparts, but rather aim to raise awareness.
Healthcare influencers are the social media version of key opinion leaders. They may be physicians, nurses, or investigators who regularly write or share articles on particular healthcare topics. Some of these digital opinion leaders may use Twitter to provide live updates from medical conferences. In an attempt to reach younger and larger audiences, MDs are increasingly turning to TikTok and Reddit to discuss controversial topics such as abortion, safe sex, and vaccine hesitancy.
Of course, there are also patient influencers. Through their chosen platform, they might share their journeys and help raise awareness of their condition and healthcare needs to other patients, the general public, and even the industry. Now, pharma needs to determine how to best engage these influencers and establish authentic relationships.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
While the potential benefits are vast, there are several downfalls that also need to be considered when incorporating social media into any healthcare program. Social media platforms are inundated with fake news and pseudoscience. Studies have shown increased risks of mental health issues with excessive use. Not to mention privacy concerns.
The next decade will determine whether the good outweighs the bad.