Key Questions About Social Media in 2019

PM360 asked experts in social media about what will change in 2019 and beyond, including:

  • How will any of the scandals regarding social media companies last year impact pharma marketers use of any of these platforms in 2019 and beyond?
  • What elements are crucial for pharma marketers to successfully work with social media influencers to promote their brands?
  • As ephemeral content continues to gain popularity, how can marketers best use these platforms to engage with audiences?
  • What will be the biggest changes or trends in social media marketing throughout 2019?

Sue Lipinski

At an individual brand level, it’s highly unlikely that social media platform activity will decrease based upon the social media scandals from 2018. Most of the marketing efforts that TGaS benchmarks are showing that brands leverage these platforms intelligently and with great consideration. Now, if their key driver analysis (KDA) or ROI analysis indicates little to no value from social media, then you will see a decrease. However, at a corporate level, pharmaceutical companies leverage these platforms for corporate recruitment, investor relations, clinical research, and beyond.

Those organizations concerned about privacy management and corporate reputation may be willing to readjust their social media strategy if another significant scandal knowingly compromises their user base. Companies absolutely need to honor their published privacy policy, but the reality is that it’s up to individual users to become their own CPO (Chief Privacy Officer) and monitor what level of personally identifiable data they share with online platforms.

Julian Suchman

Earlier this year at an industry conference, I asked a panel of patient influencers if they worried that the near-constant negative media coverage of Facebook would hurt participation rates on the platform. This initiated a confused back-and-forth until one of the panelists explained to me that the Facebook groups where she connects with other similar patients provides so much utility that it would never occur to her to leave Facebook. In her world, my question simply didn’t make sense.

Later in the year, my team at Syneos Health investigated this insight via an online survey of 432 patients. Across the board, a large percentage of respondents said the negative coverage of Facebook had damaged their view of the platform. However, in a cut of the data looking solely at people who were most highly and negatively impacted by their condition, a high percentage still viewed Facebook as trustworthy.

Even though Facebook is expected to lose over two million users in 2018, from what I observe, the people who feel isolated by illness and who are eager to connect with similar people who understand what they’re going through are staying on Facebook. For pharma marketers in 2019, Facebook remains an effective channel for reaching this audience.

Lenny Tafro

Several years ago, Beacon spearheaded a project to determine the social media audience size for a rare-disease campaign. We used the rich set of tools in Facebook’s audience manager available (for free) to generate some quick numbers. At the time, Facebook allowed advertising users to create target audiences using the self-reported likes and affinities with advocacy groups, hospitals, non-profits, and even brands themselves.

Of course, today, none of that would be possible. Since the scandal and public backlash, Facebook has stripped its audience creation tool to the bone. Today, you are presented with far fewer options to generate audiences—mostly just simple demographics (age, sex, marital status, job, education) and almost none based on affinities or likes.

Over the years, in surveys and interviews, we’ve heard a familiar refrain from rare-disease-suffering patients: They wished they had the resources and larger community available to them that those with more “mainstream” diseases have. We hope that Facebook (and other social media companies) can, in time, institute protections and safeguards against nefarious actors while still allowing the platform to do what the platform was meant to do: Connect people, and deliver the right messages to the right people in a place they love to visit and interact.

Steve Reeves

According to Cybercitizen Health U.S. 2018, 38% of patients say the most useful type of content in informing decisions for patient action are ratings and reviews. This means patient testimonials from KOLs is a critical piece of the algorithm for social success.

In order to run a successful KOL program, the first step is of course to identify who they are. This can be an arduous task depending on the nature of the business outcome the pharma brand intends (speaker programs, national/local ad-boards, etc.). But identification of the right KOLs is not a matter of simply finding who the physicians are who have the biggest Twitter audience. It’s much more about understanding the value that KOL brings to the audience, and transversely, how to harness their influence in a way that is mutually beneficial.

Understand that KOLs in digital are not just physicians—the key driver is how impactful influencers are in providing information to the wider community. In this way, pharma brands need to expand their thinking to include KOLs who may be patients, patient advocates, industry analysts, and particularly in social channels, advocacy groups who play a critical role in the dissemination of information.

Michael Leis

First, it’s about impressions and engagement. Influencers are valuable because they spark engagement from a large community of patients whose comments provide the “ah-ha” moment for your patient population. If your influencer selection process only considers impressions, or if the only engagement they get is with other influencers, their presence won’t deliver value to the brand.

Second, recruit influencers as part of research. Asking influencers to help vet concepts and messages builds content that will resonate with the patients in the brand’s therapeutic area, and builds advocacy. This changes the equation, from trying to extend the reach of an ad campaign to a campaign that rallies patients as an advocate for their journeys.

Third, let them create! Influencers should be part of the 1% in your HCP or patient population that is good at creating content on behalf of that audience. Treat them as a parallel to your traditional content creation teams. Brief them on strategy, review their content, and have your regulatory team review and approve their content (if needed). Not only will that content receive more engagement and sharing, it will carry a level of trust and value a brand simply can’t deliver.

Chelsey Brooks

It’s important to remember that influencers will post content that they feel passionate about, but their personal goals are not the same as the brand’s goals. Give them as much creative leeway as possible, but agree upfront that it will be a collaborative process. And of course, definitely don’t skip consulting with medical and legal teams to ensure concerns about compliance are addressed and a plan is in place to handle any missteps.

Brands should avoid writing off “micro-influencers”—those influencers who have fewer than 10K followers—because audiences may perceive them as more authentic, approachable, relatable, and trustworthy. If possible, provide a well-rounded view by featuring micro-influencers that are patients, caregivers, and HCPs. To avoid a Kim Kardashian-like scandal, in which the celebrity sang the praises of a “morning sickness pill” on Instagram but failed to mention potential risks, make sure your influencers understand the tightly regulated industry we work in.

Jennifer Brousseau

Social media content often only lasts 24 hours before disappearing or getting lost in the never-ending scroll. Yet, in the right hands, social platforms offer marketers a powerful opportunity to create “in the moment” interactions with users. But marketers beware: Because these platforms are all about being “real,” they can sometimes backfire if the marketing content isn’t crafted as such.

Brand content should reflect the brand’s personality in an authentic way instead of being overly promotional. This entails using emotion, humor, or even controversy to connect on a visceral level. To get reader engagement, short-and-sweet is usually best (with an emphasis on “and-sweet”). Images and videos shouldn’t be overly edited. Diversified stories capture more of the public’s attention. Polls provide a way of interacting with audiences. And hashtag stickers can help spread campaign awareness.

Another great power of ephemeral social media content is for testing what works with your audience. Results from social media outreach come quickly, so learning and optimization can happen almost in real time. Lastly, striking gold (i.e., going viral) on social channels is often the result of trying several different tones and approaches. Once one sticks, you’re on your way to building deep, lasting engagement.

Dhara Naik

Three ways healthcare marketers can leverage ephemeral content for social media platforms are:

1. Drive Campaign Buzz: Snapchat continues to dominate bite-sized content, but over 250 million Instagram users now use Instagram Stories every day. Instagram has launched new features to enhance story creation including everything from story filters, GIFs, emoji polls, and Spotify songs to raise awareness and drive social buzz for specific campaigns.

2. Create Bite-Sized Organic Patient-First Content: More and more marketers are doing away with creating highly produced, scripted content and shifting to capture and share personal real-time moments published on Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Stories. Not only can brands create more content this way, but this bite-sized content drives more engagement and receptivity from audiences who want to connect with patients like them in a more personable way.

3. Harness the Power of Micro-Influencers: Micro-influencers invest in building authentic relationships with their followers. They act more like a friend versus sharing scripted content that’s mass shared by other influencers. The level of personal content that’s shared by micro-influencers, especially around health conditions, is something that healthcare marketers can leverage for building disease state awareness campaigns and broadening the reach of their core message to a largely relevant audience.

Beatriz Mallory

For the most part, fleeting content is rarely engaging in and of itself, and may be better suited to augment a multichannel tactical execution. Tied to a brand activation or experiential event, or a one-day phenomenon such as World AIDS Day, the immediacy of these tools can enhance a suite of tactics. But they are often too transient to be engaging.

There are notable exceptions where engagement via ephemeral social media platforms may be successful.

For instance, some very specific audiences are hungry for content centered on how others with their disease are coping, such as cystic fibrosis patients who are largely homebound or in hospitals for several months of the year. Another example is the small yet highly engaged global community of people with Graves’ Ophthalmopathy, a form of thyroid eye disease (TED) with multiple communities where they share how their eyes look each day. TED patients with varying levels of disfigurement, pain, and multiple surgeries are relying on each other moment-to-moment to bolster their resilience.

Pharma marketers, providers, and payers who seek to engage rare-disease patients may want to look at these platforms more strategically as a way to provide education and support throughout these difficult patient journeys.

Kevin Hartbarger

One of the most notable trends to watch in 2019 for social platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter, is their increase in scale, which could threaten their uniqueness as social platforms.

Increasingly, users look at these platforms as primary sources of information, rather than places for “social media.” Social media used to be about one-to-one communication and genuine dialogue, but when your platform reaches two out of every seven people in the world, that’s just not applicable anymore. You are no longer a social platform—you’re a broadcast channel. This will fundamentally change how marketers use these platforms.

We’ll likely continue to use them as advertising venues for reach and scale, but not necessarily for engagement or dialogue. This shift means that (relatively) smaller social platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat will become more popular because they still feel authentic to users and deliver a purer form of social media—that one-on-one connection people want out of a social experience. Marketers must adapt to these changes and develop messaging based on realistic audience expectations given the platform of choice.

Henry Anderson

Four things to watch for in 2019 are:

1. Connections eclipse privacy concerns: 2018 may not have been the best for Facebook, but scandal hasn’t scared away users (70% of America is on Facebook and 74% of these users visit the platform daily, according to Pew Research Center) and marketers are forecasted to increase their Facebook budgets this year, according to eMarketer.

2. Convert to CRM in platform: Social media advertisers are increasingly tapping ad formats like Facebook’s lead-gen unit to acquire audiences within the channel. This eliminates the need to “click-out” to a website, and audiences appreciate the convenience of registering for a copay program or CRM offering without leaving the platform.

3. Patient support goes social: Patients and caregivers have spoken loud and clear about the high value of social media support communities and the meaningful connections they find within them. Brands have taken notice and are increasingly anchoring their patient programs within social media.

4. Facebook pharma intranets: With news of GSK joining AstraZeneca in switching from Yammer to Facebook’s Workplace Intranet architecture, social media inside healthcare organizations may be shifting to the Facebook user experience—so be careful what you post in your feed from the company holiday party.

Brad Einarsen

This past year was a tumultuous one for social platforms with data scandals that have had no major effect on usage, and usage migration that has had no visible effect on marketing budgets. In 2019, we see the big social media players continuing to dominate, but there is a cutthroat battle raging for the under-30 demographic and what was a consolidating market is once again fragmenting.

Targeting is set to be an issue for marketers in 2019 as Facebook—and by extension, Instagram—limits the data that is available on the platforms. Marketers with robust follower numbers will be able to use those as a targeting source while others should be able to rely on website pixel integrations and perhaps subscriber list uploads. In terms of content, video will continue its dominance over images in 2019 and we expect that video storytelling, especially in the vertical format, will eventually dominate marketers’ content budgets.

Later in 2019 and into 2020, we should see some experiments pay off in the integration of peer-to-peer groups on some platforms. We also expect that special purpose groups, which can allow patients to become partners with brands, will increasingly become an area of great opportunity.


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