Why Social Listening Has Become Essential To Pharma

For years, pharma stood by and watched as social media grew from a mere curiosity to an essential part of many people’s lives. But now social is quickly becoming essential to pharma as a source of online intelligence that can help drive sales and customer engagement. With more than one billion Facebook users and 500 million tweets a day, pharma can no longer afford to miss out on this valuable source of intel.

Siva Nadarajah, General Manager of Social Media at IMS Health, spoke with PM360 about how social listening techniques are evolving and what pharma can do to not only capture online data about a brand or company, but how to turn that data into actionable insights.

PM360: How is social listening evolving and what can companies do to make sure they are getting the most out of their social listening efforts?

Siva Nadarajah: Originally, social listening was done by one or two brand managers who were innovative and thought social could provide interesting insights. However, sometimes the public relations department would also be monitoring social media on their own to track the company’s reputation. So even just three or four years ago companies had a very siloed approach.

The trend now is to do social listening cohesively across all brands with just one platform. But the horizontal model certainly doesn’t work for pharma. We have already seen that with CRM in which every other industry could just use SalesForce.com, but pharma needs to customize it. The same applies to social—verticalized solutions which can provide very actionable pharma-related insights to brand managers and market researchers as well as pharmacoeconomics and drug safety.

But once people gathered this data, you would often hear them say, “Okay, nice to see. I don’t know what to do with this.” The next trend we’re seeing is that these insights are being integrated into the brand strategy. For example, companies are doing social listening to get some insights before a brand.com website is designed. So you see the very didactical uses of social data in an interesting way.

A lot of vendors are popping up in this area and offering slightly different services. For instance, some are just automating everything to collect as much data as possible and others have analysts who read all the comments to provide better context for pharma. What is the better approach to ensure you are getting everything you need out of the data?

First of all, as I mentioned, horizontal software will not solve the problem. But the software should be able to at least classify them to the next level for a human being to better digest and understand the data. So if there are 10,000 tweets about a brand, the software should be able to tell if people are talking about switching from one brand to the other, cost for the drug, drug safety, adverse events, insurance claims or something else. The filtering and categorization of the data needs to be pharma and healthcare specific. But the horizontal tools don’t do that because they don’t understand pharma content—it’s just a generic tool.

Even with the customized, verticalized solutions in which the software can filter the first level data, it is still useless unless somebody can look at it and tell what the data really means. The human aspect is very important. Pharma companies don’t have the time to go through all of this data. They want someone to look at the information and then talk to the brand managers, public relations department and the people handling drug safety and give them actionable insight that they can use in their day to day life. That is the model that we’re seeing that is working very well.

Do you think there are any missed opportunities that pharma isn’t really taking advantage of in terms of social listening?

Yes, the digital lifecycle. The digital journey of a patient just doesn’t start in Facebook or Twitter. It starts with Google. Patients search before they even have a conversation about it. Let’s assume that you had a symptom, you would probably first search on Google. And then you would read about it on, most likely, Wikipedia. In fact, more than 60% of patients use Wikipedia. Only after that do patients go to Facebook and Twitter and forums to talk about it.

Pharma marketers need to take all three things into consideration: Searching Wikipedia and other sites, how people are reading and what they’re reading, then what they’re talking about. But most pharma companies are not taking this approach into consideration, instead they are just looking at social and they are missing opportunities in the first two areas. Companies also need to bring in other data, such as sales data, to see if these online patient conversations are actually making an impact on the market. You have to do all of these things to ensure you are getting the most value out of social listening.

In addition to looking at the effect these conversations are having on sales, could you also judge the impact of a marketing campaign through social listening?

It can definitely help marketing. For example, with digital marketing there are a couple of ways you can benefit from this data. First, you can tell if the people are getting the wrong information from the Internet. And from that you can learn how to create better content for those people so they can get the right information to understand the brand or even the disease state.

Sometimes it turns out that the sources they’re reading may be negative or just incorrect. Primarily, I am talking about Wikipedia, which is just an interesting animal. But you can fix this with SEO tactics that serve up more accurate content so that fewer people read and trust Wikipedia. For instance, ensuring the branded website or a disease-state community pops up more than Wikipedia.

Your IMS Health Social Media Index has Johnson & Johnson rated as the top pharma company on social media with a pretty sizable lead. What are they doing differently from other companies and what can they learn from them?

The reason J&J got the top score was because they also have a consumer business. If you ran J&J against purely consumer health companies, then I don’t think you would have seen the same ranking. And because they also have a pharma division they got a higher ranking because the consumer division is doing some fairly good stuff on social in terms of consumer health news.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not doing a nice job—they’re serving up content that is relevant to the patients. Social media is all about relevancy—there is a reason that people choose to like or share something. J&J creates a focused community for a brand or a disease state that is localized—not just one Facebook page for the entire world, but one Facebook page for each country and each language.

And by serving up content that is more relevant to the patient, they get more engagement from patients. Also, they tend to be more frequent. They don’t wait days to respond back to somebody on social media. We see some companies create a Facebook page and nobody posts there for months. So even though J&J’s ranking is primarily because of the consumer health division, the company is still doing a lot of things right on social media.

Last year, the FDA released those three guidances to provide marketers with a little bit of clarity for approaching social media. However, they only covered three very specific areas? Are there any areas in which you still hear from marketers about wanting more clarity?

Companies will occasionally ask me, “Should I be reporting adverse events to the FDA?” Say, for instance, a patient reported an adverse event on the company’s Facebook page. You absolutely have to report it. Social is just another channel. You have to do what you did before. When someone tells you that they have an adverse event, you have to report it.

Do you think pharma should be pushing more boundaries in social media to see what the FDA will allow?

Rather than pushing boundaries to see what the FDA will allow, they should push the FDA to offer more realistic guidelines. In my personal opinion, the last guideline on platforms with character space limitations, such as Twitter and Google AdWords, was not practical from a pharma marketing perspective. Especially fitting the black box warning info in a 140-character tweet—that basically just shuts down Twitter for all brands. The ideal for pharma would be providing a tiny URL to the black box info. Companies should push that forward. It is unfair how the FDA wants pharma to approach Twitter.

Moving internally, some people within pharma companies have trouble getting executives to approve social media campaigns as they feel that those campaigns aren’t providing enough ROI or that you just can’t properly measure it. Do you have any advice for how pharma companies should be measuring the success of social media campaigns and the metrics or tactics that can show why or if the campaign is working?

A few years ago nobody knew how to use social data because they all questioned the statistical validity of it. In the last 12 to 24 months, we have seen real ROI. For example, we now can learn even simple things such as whether people like your website and how to improve it based on social media conversations. Or if patients find your co-pay program’s messaging confusing. Companies can fix these things immediately—that is real ROI that allows companies to take action.

Companies are also finding great ROI in understanding the patient journey. What do patients really do when they get diagnosed? From the shock phase to the new normal phase, where can companies intersect to provide patients with help to manage their disease. The bottom line is that if you do not align the social findings with your brand strategy then you can’t find an ROI.

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