TikTok is the seventh most used social platform in the world with 689 million active global users. Given its popularity, is this a platform that pharma marketers should use to engage with patients and doctors? The answer is, as always, it depends. TikTok users skew on the younger side with 47.4% of U.S. users under 30-years-old, so you first need to determine whether it is a platform where your particular audience spends its time. But to dig deeper into how pharma can best use TikTok we asked readers to share their favorite examples, expert tips, and dream pitches—if they had no restrictions.
An Arthritis #VictoryDance
If you’ve ever been on TikTok, you’ve undoubtably seen the dances. These short, choreographed routines get recreated by thousands of people—mostly teens and young adults. But what if instead of just the typical TikTok users, we got parents and grandparents involved too? It sounds simple, but for the nearly 55 million American adults living with arthritis, it could be more of a challenge than you think.
When a teen dares their grandparent to partake in a TikTok dance off, we can raise awareness of arthritis or arthritis treatments by celebrating the #VictoryDance. Seeding the space with a selection of hand-picked influencers would get the ball rolling. Partnerships with Rheumatologists and primary care physicians (PCPs) on TikTok would extend the conversation to include tips and tricks for improving mobility and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Talk to Your Doctor with Duets
Whether it’s due to shame, confusion, or simply anxiety, talking to a doctor about a new condition or potential treatment options can be scary territory for many patients. TikTok, on the other hand, provides an environment where shame and embarrassment are all but forgotten. Creators dance, sing, tell stories, and act right into a camera and share it immediately for the rest of the world to see. TikTok’ers aren’t afraid of anything and we can use that to our advantage.
Using Duets, our dream strategy would involve partnering with some of TikTok’s top doctors to start the conversation and find TikTok’ers who aren’t afraid to show the rest of the platform how it’s done—either by answering questions about their own personal health journeys or lip syncing over a scripted dialogue. As momentum grows, we’d encourage more people to practice having the conversation and putting an end to stigma around key health conversations.
Campaigns Worth Emulating
Mucinex created a best-in-class TikTok campaign called #BeatTheZombieFunk (121M views) where they used a brand effect, hashtag challenge, top view feed, and in-feed creative. They featured famous dancer couple tWitch and Allison Holker encouraging users to use the custom Mucinex sound to create a dance and sparked a movement of user-generated content.
Other pharma companies could do something similar. For example, a breast cancer-focused brand can own Breast Cancer Awareness Month by creating a purposeful prompt, challenge, hashtag, lens, or sound that provides a vehicle for users to complete an impactful low-lift action like sharing their breast cancer journey.
Another prime example highlighting the power of social media is the organic nature of CeraVe’s boost on TikTok. Hyram Yarbro, a 24-year-old skincare influencer with more than four million followers on TikTok, is an authentic fan of CeraVe. He shared his obsession with his favorite products and has frequently posted content featuring the skincare brand. Recently, CeraVe engaged him for a limited partnership, and pharma brands can emulate this by using TikTok’s Creator Marketplace to find the perfect brand ambassador who already loves their product.
Join the Conversation and Partner with Influencers
Across TikTok, patients and caregivers are sharing their journeys and stories—some approach their conditions with humor while others don’t shy away from the raw realities of living with their conditions. A perfect example is @andiesjourney, a patient with muscular dystrophy with 2.4M followers. She has a running Q&A feed to better educate people and support the muscular dystrophy community. We also see many HCPs on the platform, educating and correcting misinformation, which is more important now than ever.
Where does pharma fit in? TikTok brings a unique opportunity to engage with audiences aligned with its mission to “inspire creativity and bring joy” by taking an approach that offers real value to users. With TikTok’s more (recently) fleshed out targeting capabilities, such as a newly formed partnership with LiveRamp, advertisers can pair the creativity of the platform with smart and strategic targeting.
A few pharma brands have already joined the conversation with branded hashtag challenges and in-feed ads. Pharma can contribute to the thousands of health-related conversations happening on TikTok that are threaded together with popular hashtags (e.g., #psoriasis, #breastcancer). Most importantly, partnering with creators on the platform is a major opportunity with hundreds of patients, caregivers, and HCPs with significant followings.
The Power of TikTok’s Algorithm
TikTok has taken the meme culture and pulled it from the bowels of Reddit and projected it onto our retinas in the most engaging way possible. True, it’s incredibly addicting, but beyond the duets and dance moves, there are troves of innovation, entrepreneurship, and educational material. More importantly, TikTok completely throws out the follow-graph that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others have so carefully made the cornerstones of their platforms. The power of TikTok’s algorithm can’t be understated and it ultimately means you don’t need a million followers to go viral.
This unique amalgamation of memes, entertainment, education, plus an algorithm that doesn’t favor creators who make TikTok their full-time job has created the ideal foundation for pharma to build on. The empathy, relatability, and timeliness of user content doesn’t exist elsewhere. Plus, it’s far less commitment than YouTube and far more discoverable than Snapchat or Instagram. Although Gen-Z was the first to buy in, one of the fastest growing segments on TikTok is U.S. adults.
For pharma to win on TikTok, it will most likely be through partnerships and cocreation—think the way Red Bull does “brought to you by” sports content. If a brand, especially one dealing with a chronic condition, were to sponsor a dozen patients, creating candid content about their experiences, coping, diet, dating, and day-to-day life, TikTok has already proven that model effective. Due to the awareness the app creates almost overnight, for the first time ever pharma might literally be able to buy “viral.”
The Keys to an Unbranded Campaign
TikTok is ripe for unbranded content among communities targeting younger audiences under 30. Successful personal accounts already exist in the autism, cancer, mental illness, and rare disease spaces, with patients showing everyday life with their condition. So, picture this: A “question and answer” campaign, where the unbranded campaign asks a relatable question, and fellow patients respond by stitching the sound and audio into their response.
- Sights: A Patient Ambassador speaking directly to a camera in a homemade video in a casual setting.
- Sounds: “What’s an example of a time you____? I’ll go first: ______.” This an established TikTok formula, inviting viewers to take part and share their perspectives.
- Sequence: No fancy cuts, a one-shot video of 15 seconds to one minute.
- Interactive options: People “stitch” the video, taking that first question and then following up with their own story.
To make an ideal TikTok campaign like the one described above make sure the campaign is part of a Patient Ambassador program, with participants willing and excited to be featured. Also, organically relevant content requires at least a weekly posting cadence and flexibility to adjust to the platform’s regularly varying tone. Finally, the campaign should give an appearance of being authentic and “homemade,” ideally by using user-generated content.