It’s no secret that pharma is among the least trusted industries in the world. While in many cases cure rates are rising and overall outcomes are improving, concerns around accessibility, pricing, and responsibility for the opioid epidemic have undoubtedly left a mark on the industry.

In the wake of this drop in consumer trust, digital marketers have an opportunity to give a trustworthy face to pharma and tell the brand story on their owned media channels in a way that provides value to both the patient and the brand.

But let us first address the elephant in the room: While pharma has delivered many innovative content marketing initiatives, the one channel predestined for content marketing—social media—at times still feels like an unknown to the industry. Many industry marketers I talk to have found it overwhelming and near-impossible to undertake, or at least to undertake it properly, in the way the medium is intended to be used. But the expectations and trends of patients are clear: Social media is no longer just trendy; it directly influences thoughts and decision-making in the patient population.

Learn to Love Social Media

At Digital Pharma East in Philadelphia this year, I was able to listen in on powerful patient interviews that indicated that owned channels carry a tremendous amount of credibility as long as healthcare brands provide relevant healthcare information. Not surprisingly, surveys also showed that over two-thirds of patients and caregivers would trust a pharma, drug, or biotech company more if it also provided information, tools, and support to help manage their disease.

If we combine this with studies demonstrating that out of all the internet users that engage on social media, the majority are looking for health information, and some of the most active users on social media are those battling a chronic condition or disability, it’s an obvious reality for the pharmaceutical industry—social media presents a significant opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to cultivate trust among their consumers. Moreover, patients are not an exception to how the rest of the world prefers to consume information. If we are considering or are currently engaging with a brand, we go to their owned web properties to access accurate information, including social media.

Pharma should not shy away from the dynamic world of social media, we should embrace it and put systems in place that safeguard legal, regulatory, and ethical integrity. In order to gain (and keep) the trust of their stakeholders, we must adapt to patients’ informational needs. But it’s important to note that mere presence alone won’t instill trust. Brands must provide current and potential customers meaningful support and resources at every step of their journey and in the places they’re most digitally active. In order to achieve that patient-centric social presence, an organization must commit to doing so, which means dedicating the time and resources to thinking it through.

Stay Away from “Spray and Pray”

In the pharmaceutical industry, when we work on short timelines with 80% of that dedicated to regulatory reviews, it’s tempting to neglect or even skip proper content strategizing, while planning for social media. But without a strong social content strategy and plan, brands are often left with a “spray and pray” content model that falls flat and, more importantly, fails to fill patient needs and provide value to them, every step of the way.

On a high level, these are the steps to draw up plans for an impactful social content strategy:

1. Align social media goals with overall business objectives.

  • This will help establish KPIs and the right metrics to measure along the way, the former of which will inform how well the brand is doing at achieving its goals.

2. Include patients in research and planning.

  • Collecting patient insights will help develop persona behavior, establish where and why they are online, and what content they value most. Including patients early on in strategy development demonstrates commitment to serving them and helps to ensure that the brand provides the right information.

3. Audit your own content.

  • Determine where you are now, identify what content is and is not resonating with your consumers, and prioritize accordingly.

4. Research and analyze the current landscape.

  • See where your competitors and partner organizations might be, and measure how well their channels and content are performing.

5. Based on research, plan for whether comments are turned on or off, and establish community guidelines, a response plan, and appropriate monitoring schedules.

  • We operate in a regulated industry, so it is prudent to establish rules for engagement on social and plan ahead for foreseeable scenarios. Because social media takes organizational commitment, internal stakeholders involved should agree to be reasonably available to make sure responses are timely.

6. Plan, create, and post your content.

  • Create a content calendar and the assets that align with research and planning findings and shepherd them through the legal and regulatory review process.

7. Measure and optimize.

  • The beauty of digital is that you can easily measure whether your content is resonating, and if it doesn’t work, you can change course to better fit the needs of patients. Keep measuring and adapting throughout the year.

While it’s tempting to avoid engaging on social altogether, social media represents one of the biggest opportunities to instill trust in the community. With the right organizational commitment and investment in strategy and planning, brands can ensure they are delivering the right content to the right people, while giving a trustworthy face to their brand and providing value to the stakeholders who matter most: The patients.

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