Pharma and social media

I was asked by a twitter friend if I could provide some articles or examples of some of the things pharmaceutical companies are doing these days on social media.  I thought why not do one better and just write a post about it?  I am always using Boehringer Ingelheim as an example of best practice in social media and in my mind they still are a leader but other companies are also now doing great things in social media.  So I had a little perusal on Facebook, Twitter and other channels and have pulled together some of my favourite, none Boehringer, examples from recent efforts.


GE31. GE and Pinterest

I though I would start with Pinterest which is one of my favourite pastimes when I am traveling and is often overlooked as a channel by pharma.  I love Pinterest because it is so visual and I find it rather fun to post pictures quickly on my mobile while I sit on the bus. Pinterest also happens to be a great platform for driving traffic which I feel is something that pharma overlooks (and do not get me started on pharma and traffic driving failures!).  GE has a fantastic Pinterest board covering a range of subjects relating to the organisation.  t GE Healthcare does not have an active account itself there are numerous boards within the GE account dedicated to healthcare.  I personally find it interesting to see them in with other non-health boards – it is rather like browsing in a bookshop when you stumble upon something you were not looking for but find fascinating.  Just like a bookstore GE’s Pinterest account is worth visiting because of the number of “books”, i.e. images, there is always something to find.  Many pharma have very concentrated, small boards, so once you have visited you have pretty much seen it all.

GE I also really like the GE pins as they are very much in line with the image GE is trying to convey and they are successfully integrated with their various campaigns like #GetFit. Many of the pins provide useful information and statistics around a disease but they also have a great board called Pinspire and one called Cancer Pintherapy which are full of inspirational content and quotes.

Learning for other pharma: start being more active on Pinterest and share more of your visual content via this channel.




2. Roche and Twitter

Whilst Roche may not be as engaging through their twitter feed as Boehringer is they do share interesting scientific content.  This reflects the company’s culture and focus on science and gives them a clear image on Twitter.  There are tweets targeted at patients, for example linking through to their oncology Pinterest board, but for the most part their tweets are about the science.  The whole look and feel of their Twitter account also reflects this with an image of scientists emblazoned across it.

Screenshot from @Roche

Screenshot from @Roche

What I particularly like about their approach is that they are very clear in the purpose of their twitter feed and who they are targeting.  This is a business account targeting scientists and medical professional first and foremost, followed by healthcare journalists and scientifically inclined patients.  Despite this strong leaning towards the science they still manage to keep the tone of the tweets friendly and they do engage, responding to questions or tweets directed at them.  Another noteworthy thing is the number of tweets – they are often tweeting multiple times a day and using relevant # which is great, in particular because this is still not always being done by some of their competitors.

Learning for pharma: Be clear in who you are targeting via twitter and use frequency and # to ensure your target audience is seeing your tweets.



3. Bayer Diabetes and Facebook

bayer 2Looking in the diabetes space on social media there are some great examples from pharma notably Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Bayer Diabetes. As a whole I suggest to my pharma clients they should look in the diabetes space to see a vibrant active online community, where patients and caregivers are highly active and pharma are really engaging with some great content.  As such it was a hard call but I decided to go for Bayer Diabetes as in my opinion their Facebook approach is just that bit more engaging and patient focused whilst at the same time targeting a global audience.  It is also notable as its Facebook page is open to commenting, which is still not standard practice in pharma – Bayer is showing that they are open to engaging with people directly and are open to providing answers and resources in response to direct questions.  In fact relating to this another notable element to the Bayer Diabetes Facebook page is how they respond to questions.  I have seen quite a few questions asking about content in different languages and Bayer has responded by developing more multi-lingual content (they currently cover Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and German as well as English).  This to me is fantastic to see!  Many pharma still spew out their social media and look like they are engaging but in reality they are not listening to their stakeholders needs and requests as they do not adapt or alter their content.  Perhaps the other notable thing about these requests that Bayer Diabetes is getting is that it suggests diabetes patients are finding this information relevant and useful if they are proactively asking for it in other languages.  I suspect this is because Diabetes Care is trying to do what they say they do – namely “helping to simplify the lives of people with diabetes, empowering them to take charge of their health and happiness”.  Their content certainly is clearly focused on lifestyle tips (including recipes which were also requested by followers).  They occasionally intersperse the content with disease awareness campaigns but for the most part the content has a clear purpose for a clear target – diabetes patients.

What pharma can learn:  Open up your Facebook and engage – if people ask you direct questions listen and answer them (otherwise why are you on Facebook in the first place?!)



These are just three nice examples from three of the platforms.  When I have time I will provide my views on Linkedin, YouTube and Google+ but now I have to go back to doing some charity work and saving dogs’ lives in Romania.  I would be interested to know your thoughts on  your favourite pharma social media offerings and indeed GE, Roche and Bayer I would love to hear from you and hear your perspective on your efforts in this area.






Engaging with KOL & KOI online – wake up pharma!

Despite my grumbles of not having had time to post much to this blog I have managed to find time to write three blog posts for the ZS Associates blog The Active Ingredient. The subject of this triad of posts engaging with KOL and KOI online, starting with why it is important, how to engage online with KOL and with KOI. I actually wrote about this over a year ago and to date it is probably the blog post I have shared the most with pharma clients and teams.

It is a subject area I am passionate about and as you can read in the posts it has potentially a huge value for pharma companies. The relationships of today are increasingly happening online as well as offline and the sheer volume of content on the internet is making it harder to find relevant information. Content shared by KOI is more likely to be found, in part because of their networks, but also because people are more likely to read something shared by a KOI rather than by a pharma company. Building those online relationships today is therefore aligned with current trends but also helps companies make the most of those increasingly tight budgets by expanding the reach of their content.

I was already looking at this over three years ago, and given this potential value I really thought that pharma was going to start doing more in terms of engaging online with KOI and KOL. However to date very few are doing this, with exceptions like Roche Diagnostics & diabetes bloggers and some of the early steps being taken by Boehringer Ingelheim.

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Whilst a few years ago it would have taken a great deal more manual effort to identify these KOI today there are some great tools out there to do this. I actually spoke this afternoon to Little Bird who took me through their tool. I loved it! It does exactly what one needs to identify the KOI and has some great ways of looking at the data and provides actionable insights. Of course it is just a tool and the key to any tool is how you use it. When looking at this particular area the key thing is to focus on the relationship part. Once you have identified the KOI you need to develop a clear plan of who exactly you will build a relationship with, why and how. This is something that cannot be automated and is not something that should be left to your agencies! Just as in the offline world to build the relationship you actually have to present, the same is true online. How can you build a relationship through a 3rd party, or even worse through a barrage of automated tweets?! And do you really want your agency to own these strategic relationships?

Whilst in the pass the tools were a barrier to building online relationships, today I believe the key barrier for pharma companies is the lack of internal knowledge and process to deal with this new relationship model. This however should not be a barrier anymore. Equipped with the insights and looking at how relationships work offline companies can start to put in place the expertise and process required to build these relationships. Perhaps the main question is not how can they do this but why on earth are they not started doing this already?

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool

Network visualisation from Little Bird tool


Screenshot from Little Bird tool

Screenshot from Little Bird tool


Too much to do too little time

I have been a tad behind at writing this blog post and responding to comments, which saddens me given the glowing responses I have got in some of my comments. In an ideal world I would like to write a post weekly, rather than the current monthly timing. I should also be responding to comments ideally within 24 hours which I am also failing to do. This blog is hobby which allows to me to share my thoughts on one of my passions – digital and social media in the pharma industry – and I do enjoy writing it. Career wise I am sure the blog helps too. Sadly working as a full time consultant, trying to support my charity, spending time with my cats, and dealing with an Auto-immune disorder which often leaves me very tired and requires me to sleep 8-10 hours a night, leaves me with very little spare time to do anything else (including blogging for my charity I occasionally also blog for my employer ZS around social media but I find that far less rewarding (for one I never get many comments glowing orotherwise!). It is the age old dilemma of too much to do and too little time.

This is of course a similar dilemma that many companies face with their social media and digital efforts. A number of companies I have advised on social media where taken aback when I told them how much content and resources would be needed if they wanted to truly engage via this channel. One local brand team, for example, were adamant that they had more than enough content to set up their own Twitter feed, which warranted them going against the Corporate guidance of using the local country Twitter account. When I joined the discussion my first questions was how much content exactly? How often would they be Tweeting and what were their monitoring plans? It turned out they planned to Tweet once per week – a far cry than the recommended multiple times per day! Realising how much effort and resources (tine and financial) would be required they ended up towing the line and using the country account and appropriate #. Whilst Twitter is a particularly active social media channel that requires high levels of content and monitoring, other channels also benefit from a steady stream of new content, which takes time and money to develop.

The other side of social media is of course the monitoring element. As I have already confessed I am far from following the best practice in terms of responding to comments, but I am not a large company with products and services and a reputation to defend.   Whilst as an individual I can get away with taking a few days to respond, a company is expected to respond within 24 hours, 48 max. This again takes resources, as well as a clear process, to respond appropriately. This is the scary part for many pharma companies and is also the part that has led to automated responses (and there are some classic examples where automated responses go horribly wrong). It need not be scary however if you have the appropriate level of resources involved in this activity and process in place to be able to respond rapidly. Technology can do a large amount of the leg work (for example sending an alert that a response is required) and having a team of people who can respond then facilitates responding within the time-frame required.

Many companies I know have 1 or at most 2 people dedicated to social media. In my opinion this is not enough. In fact for most tasks you should never be solely dependent on just one person because when that person is sick, on holiday or decides to quit, the company is left vulnerable (and given that you are probably requiring them work through holidays and sick days they are more likely to be sick, and eventually quit). That does not mean that you need to employ another dedicated resource but it does mean you have to have other employees appropriately trained so that they can step in if required.

For companies looking for resources in social media but struggling with restricted headcount and resources, there is one resource that few are totally optimising – their own internal network. Looking at social media there are now many employees who are active with social media in their personal life who, with appropriate training, could be called upon to help out. It is a useful skill for many people’s career and there are many ways of rewarding or incentivising people to provide that additional support. As resources within the industry become more restricted, but the demand for digital and social content and engagement rises, the industry will need to start thinking a bit more out of the box to find solutions such as this.

Sadly this is not a resource I have access to. Much as my cats take an interest in my laptop (sitting on it, walking over it, etc.) I have not yet managed to train them to write blog posts or respond to comments for me. All I can do is keep trying to find time and when I don’t, keep apologising. And perhaps posting more kitteh photos because everyone love a good kitteh photo right?


The Don helping out

The Don helping out


Packaging – people do care!

A couple of days ago I came across a very interesting question posted on Twitter. A patient had posted an image of their medication package and reached out to @novonordisk to ask why the new packaging was so big compared to the old packaging.

I noticed this post for a couple of reasons. Firstly I am always intrigued to see how pharma companies respond to direct questions from patients via social media. Will they respond, and if so how quickly and how appropriately, or will they ignore the question? I saw a great example of a tweet that Pfizer should have just ignored but instead they sent a totally inappropriate automated response – clearly no one had bothered to read the tweet!

Secondly this question made total sense and resonated with me. Like many consumers I am so fed up with excessive packaging that has become endemic in our society. I get so frustrated trying to grapple with DVD packaging or double packaging for food products. A pet hate is also large boxes for tiny products, for example my Fuelband came in a huge box which was mostly empty – why? I am aware of the damage we are doing to the environment and I hate contributing to this, especially by excessive use of packaging. This was then a great question that @martinzwart1 posted and I was intrigued to see what the response would be.

I was very happy to see a prompt response from @novonordisk, stating that they would get back as soon as possible with more information. This is a great example of how to respond when you are not able to respond immediately – far better than not responding and just waiting until you have the information to respond. @novonordisk then came back a day later with an answer – again very prompt – and also invited @martinzwart1 and me (by now I had of course jumped on the bandwagon) to get back to them with further questions. A great example of how to respond to a patient via Twitter.

Sadly the actual response was very disappointing. The reason Novo Nordisk has had to increase the size of their packaging is not through choice but rather as a result of new regulations from European authorities. This to me is so absurd. We have various EU and national directives aimed at reducing packaging and packaging waste and yet here is an EU authority demanding that packaging is made bigger!

I personally find this rather disgraceful and irritating. In a day when more and more people get their information online why on earth is there a need to increase package size? If patients require additional printed material could this not be requested at the pharmacy when they pick up their medication? Those, like me, that prefer to read the information electronically (or just ignore it) can then be served with our smaller, more environmentally friendly packaging. Why must we, and our environment, suffer as a result of over-zealous, backwards looking regulatory authorities?

So … who is Doctor XXXX?


I had the great pleasure today to be chatting with @Boehringer, and it was politely pointed out to me that there was a typo in my last blog post “Boehringer still chatting away”. I presumed that in my hurry to type up my post & then post I had got a where / were wrong or perhps some other typo. @Boehringer however then asked whom did I mean by Dr.X.   I took a deep breath … this was not the typo I was expecting – this was a blatant error! In actual fact it was Dr XXXX – it was one of the doctors taking part in the tweet chat and I had meant to double check the name before committing some error on my blog. Well that failed spectacularly because I forgot to amened and now my blog talks about some Dr. XXXXX!

Had it been Dr X I would have been annoyed but mildly amused too. Dr XXXX however brings up all sorts of connotations and my blog is meant to be vaguely professional! If I were new to social media, or a pharma company, I would have rushed online, made the change and prayed that no one had spotted the error. As it was somebody very kindly parted me with my smartphone in Barcelona over the weekend so I had no way of getting online quickly. Panic you may think.

However I am now starting to be bit of an old hand at social media so actually I was not overly concerned. I maintained that mild amusement – of a slightly different ilk but still mildly amused. And I was in no rush to try desperately to find wifi and get online with my laptop. In fact I started mulling over writing this blog post … and wondering what sort of traffic I will get with XXXX in my title!

The reason for this mild nonchalance is because I know and I trust social media. I know for starters that the intent of my article was serious and well-intended so any comments I get will either be relevant to the rest of the post or humorous (at least I hope so). But perhaps more to the point I also feel that now that the mistake is made it is better to point it out, have a laugh and live with it rather than furiously, desperately try to correct it and pretend it never happened. This is what my experience in social media tells me.

Sadly many companies when they make a mistake in do exactly this – they try to very quickly cover up the mistake and hope no one noticed, and potentially get very defensive if anyone is so “rude” as to point the mistake out. This can back fire and there have been some spectacular examples of this in social media (Google this and you will find plenty of entertaining examples). They essentially dig that proverbial hole – which I am sure most of know from experience makes matter worse (and often even more entertaining for the bystander).

The correct way to handle this is of course not to try desperately to brush it under the carpet, bring lawyers in, close down your page, etc. The best way is to accept it, admit that you made a boo boo, and perhaps like me, have a strong drink and laugh at your mistake. Some would argue this is different from companies but I always point them back to that rather old example of the Red Cross getting slizzard post (and yes alcohol again).

The original Red Cross post

The original Red Cross post

I love this example. Here is a very reputable organisation, with a very serious subject matter, mistakenly tweeting about getting drunk! Shock horror! If ever there was a time to desperately back pedal here is a great example. The problem of course was that this one mistaken tweet had gone viral. Again shock horror! What to do?! A knee jerk reaction might be to temporarily close the account. A better reaction was however for the Red Cross to tweet a light hearted, but genuine apology.

The Red Cross response

The Red Cross response

The result shows why this was the right thing to do. The tweet went even more viral, along with the response, and people started using the # used in the drunken account as a drive for people to give blood. One drunken tweet turned into a charitable drive to get people to donate blood. That to me is a result – born not of planning but of being human and transparent.

It is therefore along this vein that I am now tweeting about Dr.XXXX – to show that even potentially rather embarrassing social media mistakes are not the end of the world. In fact they can reinforce your credibility and your social media appeal. You cannot plan for these things (that is just creepy and wrong) but you can show your true metal but how you respond to your mistakes online, in public. It takes guts but we will love you all the more if you can show that you too are only human. We are forgiving when you admit your mistakes and damning when you try to hide them.


Addendum: Stealing from the Red Cross mistake I wanted to also follow this with a fundraising drive for my charity Hope for Romanian Strays. If you laughed at my mistake or appreciated this blog post and think that you would like to make a difference to a life then please make a donation via paypal to @hopeforstrays Dr XXXX campaign. We need funds to feed, vaccinate, neuter and treat puppies and strays in the shelter (hence the loose connection to a doctor and the number 4). You can donate via paypal at, mentioning DrXXXX – for €10 you can vaccinate a puppy or buy a bag of food, €21 neuters a puppy and for €40 you can vaccinate, neuter and feed a puppy. Donations for treatment will go to pay off our never-ending debts with the vets for treating all our emergency cases. So essentially for the price of 4 drinks you can save the life of a puppy or a stray, and bring hope where there is so much despair. Now that would be a great result from a social media mistake! For more information on the charity visit


Ursa - when she was so emaciated she could no longer stand we picked her up and gave her the care she needed.  Will you help her and others like her?

Ursa – when she was so emaciated she could no longer stand we picked her up and gave her the care she needed. Will you help her and others like her?


Left to die in a field - rescued by Hope for Romanian Strays

Left to die in a field – rescued by Hope for Romanian Strays


@Boehringer still chatting away

This week Boehringer Ingelheim held another tweet chat around Afib, which IMHO was a great success, like their other previous tweet chats. Using the #CHATafib, @Boehringer led the engagement, along with a few physicians who had been invited to join, such as DrXXXX.

Quoting @lenstarnes: “Have to congratulate @boehringer for staging the 2nd #CHATafib, not many pharmas have the courage or vision to do similar”. I think this sums up my point of view too – I genuinely congratulate Boehringer for their forward thinking and bravery in organising these tweet chats and continuing to use social media as an engagement channel, rather than just a PR channel.

I thought it was also great to see the @Boeringer handle being handed over to Dr Sona Tvrdonova, Global Medical Advisor, for the tweet chat. I have been telling pharma for years to get their medical teams involved in social media and this is a fantastic example of how that would work, and why it is a good idea.

The tweet chat itself was as always interesting and engaging. For me tweet chats provide value in a number of ways. The first has to be as a great way to introduce newcomers to twitter – give a live feeling of how twitter works and the dynamics of the platform. I also think it is a great tool for students. These conversations often include real experts and some great insights – which may be less interesting to people who know the content really well, but great for those trying to learn it can provide fantastic insights, and for free.

The other value I see in tweet chats, and again a favourite topic of mine, is how they can be used to develop relationships with people. One of the reasons this is one of my favourite topics is that it was through the #hcsmeu tweet chats that I really got into twitter and start to “meet” people via twitter, many of whom I have now met in person. People who do not use twitter do not always grasp how this is possible. The reality is there is a degree of trust and openness that is, IMHO, unique to social media. This comes from sharing and discussing common interests from the start, unlike a face to face meeting, where you have to first find out what people are interested in. The people I met through #hcsmeu all shared my passion for healthcare and social media – we had an automatic shared interest, and in the end this is the foundation that relationships are built of.

I know other pharma will start to follow @boehringer’s lead, but Boehringer holds that pioneer crown. It is well deserved and I look forward to many more successful and interesting tweet chats with @boehringer.


The value of virtual conference attendance

We recently went through that ASCO time of year again. In terms of social media this is a big event and ASCO was one of the early adopters in terms of twitter and conference #.   I have been preaching for years about the value of using social media at conferences but it is only now really becoming more mainstream within the pharma and pharma conference industry.

Social media around these conferences has value in a number ways. Firstly there is increased in reach and impact of messages and information from the content. We are approaching a time when there will be more virtual attendees than physical attendees, in part driven by cost cutting measures and restrictions on paying for physicians to attend, but also driven by the increased use of digital channels to extend the conferences virtually.

Doctors who in the past were too junior or not perceived as a “key” stakeholder would not have been able to attend congress and would have to wait for the publication of reports from the conference. Now they can have real-time access to what is being presented and the latest news being presented many miles away at a conference like ASCO.

The other aspect of extended reach is to a whole stakeholder group who would, for the most part, not traditionally been able to attend – patients and caregivers. Patients are becoming increasingly engaged and active in their own healthcare, and going online to find information and following disease related #. Increasingly Patient KOI are actively following conferences and sharing the most pertinent information with their followers. This way, patients are able to find out the latest news and information that related to their disease – information that they would not traditionally have had access to outside of their doctor’s office.

A further benefit that social media at conference brings is the possibility to gain insights, identify KOI and build relationships with these KOI.   Conferences are a great opportunity to identify KOI or KOL who are active on social media and to start engaging with them. Social media can be used to reach out to them directly if they are at the conference and ask for a meeting, for example. Or, alternatively, identify them at congress and then follow up later online.

Despite all these benefits many pharma companies are still not fully optimising this opportunity. Some are starting to be very active at conference but then do not optimise the on-going opportunities that can come out of these events. Fortunately though each year I am seeing more and more activity around these conference so there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.

Patient centric – this year’s buzzword?

The term “patient centric” seems to be cropping up more and more but is it just another buzzword,  like Multi-Channel Marketing was last year?  And what exactly does “patient centric” mean?

Looking first at the meaning of “patient centric” – it essentially is what it says!  It is about putting the patient at the center. Sounds simple – especially if you do not work in the pharmaceutical industry.  In most industries it is a no-brainer that you center your marketing, strategy and indeed whole business, around the end user of your product and service.  After all if your customers are not happy with your product or service you will potentially go out of business.  In healthcare, and in particular from the pharmaceutical industry perspective, things are not quite so simple.

To start with the industry still sees physicians as their customer, not the patients.  This is in part as a result of regulations but also in part historical.  Until recently patients had little say or voice in their healthcare and relied almost entirely on healthcare providers for information and, to an extent, decision making.  This, coupled with regulations forbidding most direct contact between industry and patients in most countries, meant that the patient rarely came into the equation.  As far as the industry was concerned the key decision maker, and therefore customer, was the physician.  Now as to how customer centric the industry is towards these customers is another story – and warrants a separate blog piece!

The advent of the internet and social media has led to a change in the dynamics between patients and their healthcare.  Increasingly physicians are not the only, or indeed in some cases the main, source of information.  Increasingly it is other patients who provide the answers and the information.  And increasingly other sources online provide information to patients – not always accurate or appropriate but there none-the-less.

A recent example I saw was of a diabetes patient who reached out to a closed group of online friends.  She had recently been prescribed a product by her physician but as a result of some of the things she had read online around side effects she was very scared of starting the treatment, despite her physician’s advice.  She was delaying starting the treatment out of fear, which her physician had not allayed (and indeed had probably not covered in the brief appointment).  She therefore turned to this Facebook group to express her concerns – not so much asking for advice as just wishing to share her feelings.  Fortunately for her a couple of people in the group had experience with this product and told her not to be afraid and that it really was not that bad.  They provided her with the more accurate, personal information she required but they also calmed her fears and provided the emotional support she needed.  As a result of this she started her prescription as her physician instructed.

So how does this story help a pharma company looking to be more customer centric?  Outside of the US the first response would probably be “oh we can’t talk about our products with patients so we are powerless in this situation”.  Poppycock I say to that!  Whilst in Europe companies are severely restricted in what they can communicate directly to patients they are able to communicate directly to physicians.  In the example above had the physician been more aware of the conversations that his patients are reading online he may have been better prepared to allay his patient’s fears.  Some appropriate patient support materials speaking to these fears may also have been useful for the physician to share.  In the US the same rings true but there is the added element that pharma marketeers need to be aware of the dangers of DTC advertising.  Due to regulations they have to document the long list of possible adverse events – which to many patients is far more scary than the disease!  Again being aware of how patients feel, are communicating and thinking, can help counter some of this – for example by moving away from being so promotional to being more supportive in the messaging.

In essence being patient centric is about bringing some of this customer centric thinking into the work practice.  It involves making sure you really understand your patients. How are they using your products?  What are their fears and concerns?  What support do they need?  What issues do they have taking your products compliantly?  How do you use this information in your daily work?  This is even easier to do today – just as patients have access to more information so do companies.  Using social media listening for example companies can identify what the key pain points are and look to provide support accordingly (either directly or via physicians).

This brings me back to my first point – is this really happening or is “patient centric” just another buzz word?  Judging by pharma companies websites it is real – many of them promote their patient focus on their homepages suggesting that this is indeed of strategic importance.  Sadly digging a little deeper shows that in many cases this is indeed just another buzz word.  In many pharmaceutical companies there is talk of being more patient centric but too little action to support this talk.  The regulatory burden puts many off.  The lack of innovative thinking hampers others.  But perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of realisation of just how import patient centricity really is.  Whilst the example above is of just one patient – mulitply this by thousands and you start to see an impact on revenues.  With patent cliffs, more specialised pipelines and tightening budgets every patient starts to count.  What good is it convincing doctors to prescribe your products if the patients are getting information online that then dissuades them from using the product?

Patient centricity must move beyond being a buzzword for the industry.  It needs to be embraced and incorporated fully by the industry today.  Without patients there would be no industry so it is time the industry started acknowledging patients and taking their needs, but also their potential power, more seriously.  Because if not who knows what the future holds for the industry – but I doubt it will be that profitable.


Patient's increasingly have a choice. What's your choice?

Patient’s increasingly have a choice. What’s your choice?

How digital and social media is impacting pharmaceutical marketing

The world as we know it is changing. Our stakeholder’s way of thinking, and behaving, is changing due to 24/7 access to global information. So how does this impact our industry and what are the opportunities for pharma marketers?

Patients are engaging online around their health, and they expect to be able to engage online with other people and companies in this space. They do not understand why big pharma companies does not engage and this exacerbates the industry’s poor reputation. From a corporate marketing point of view this is an easy win. By accepting social media, rather than avoiding it, companies can start to have a positive impact on their reputation, and build corporate brand value.

This new dynamic is also impacting physicians, who face patients coming to appointments well informed, and with different questions than they used to, for example “is there an app for that”. Here again is a nice win for marketers. Rather than focusing on providing the information that they want physicians to hear, i.e. all about their product, why not look at also providing value by helping physicians with some of these real-world issues? Why not sponsor an assessment of disease apps, or ensure that the physician is kept up to date with what patients are Googling?

Another impact that the digital environment has led to is an increased pressure on people’s time. Marketing now means that you are no longer just competing with another pharma company. You now compete with a whole array of different parties to get a slice of a physician’s time. Give a person the choice to access information when they want and how they want, or to physically sit through a sales call at a specified time and it is a no-brainer which option people will increasingly choose. That is not to say that people will stop choosing the physical meeting altogether but they want a mix of options – and a choice.

Here again that word “value” comes in. As a marketer the way to grab a piece of someone’s time is to deliver value, both in terms of channel preference but also in terms of content. Digital enables us to understand individual’s areas of interest – why not then deliver your marketing information tailored to their preferences?

Of course this costs money, which is an age old problem. Again digital can help. Traditionally pharma marketing has been very siloed, by brand, function and geography. Digital provides the means to break down these siloes and generate cost efficiencies. By working in a more collaborative way, digitally facilitated, companies can reduce waste, for example in asset development and in time. Why should each brand, in each country, produce their own app? Often they have a similar end use and the backbone could be developed jointly and then adapted for local end use.

And this brings me onto the final massive change that digital, and in particular social media, has led to – namely access to information. The amount of information available on our stakeholders online is huge. Despite this I still see teams basing the bulk of their marketing plans on traditional market research with very little social media listening included. Now social media listening is not the be-all-end-all but it should be included. It provides key insights that need to be part of a modern marketing plan, for example where do your customers go for information, what topics are they talking about (and here is a hint – it is probably not about you) and what are their needs. Social media enables pharma marketers to get a better understanding of stakeholder’s emotions and behaviours, and at the end of the day it is emotions and behaviours that impact pharma sales.

Digital is no longer new and it is an integral part of daily life. Companies today should be optimising their marketing to reflect this digital impact and to start offering their stakeholder’s real value.

Social Media in Pharma Conference

Last week I had the immense pleasure of chairing the SMI conference on social media in the pharmaceutical industry.  I have to admit that I really enjoyed chairing, despite some minor hiccup with some of the name pronunciations (for which I do apologise!).

On the whole I enjoyed it and found the vast majority of presentations really interesting.  Not surprisingly Boehringer dominated the event. There was  Müge Gizem Bıçakçı Akalın from Boehringer Ingelheim Turkey who presented some great slides on what they have been doing in social media.  The first thing, that got lots of raised eyebrows, was their Facebook page targeting women with period pains for their product Buscopan.  The page is a profile page for a “retro” female character called … Buce Kopan!  To many of us this just seemed so blatantly DTC but apparently this is not seen as such in Turkey and both Buce and Kopan are well known Turkish names.  Doing a bit of research I can confirm that there are in fact numerous people called Buce Kopan so perhaps it is not quite as bad – just a tad a risky in my opinion!


 The other thing that I thought was fantastic to hear from Boehringer Turkey was that they are integrating their social media into their sales efforts – so they are encouraging sales reps to support the social media campaigns and are rewarding them for their involvement.  This to me is taking social media to the next level and it is great to see Boehringer again being a pioneer in this space. 

Another Boehringer presentation was made by John Pugh who showed some really interesting research, which I believe Silja Chouquet did for Boehringer, comparing the various pharma social media accounts.  There were some interesting points about how number of followers correlates to a degree with company size.  Reach however does not – so Novartis has far more followers that Boehringer on twitter but the same reach as Boehringer. 

Boehringer is also known for trying things out, and John talked through another example of this with the hypertension Facebook page for HCPs.  They had chosen an area where products are soon going off patent – so not a priority brand area – to test how relevant and effective a Facebook page for HCPs would be.  So far it looks like this has been a success – with some interesting learnings such as to advertise on the platform you are using rather than on other platforms (i.e. Facebook advert to a Facebook page). 

That was not the end to the Boehringer mentions though!  I myself used them as a case example when I talked about building relationships with KOL and KOI online.  My main points were that there is value in doing this and that there is a clear process to follow.  You can see my presentation here:

Gary Monk also spoke about how human Boehringer’s approach to social media is, citing their Facebook disclaimer as a great example,  contrasting markedly with Novartis’ very legal and formal disclaimer.  Gary also made a great point that Novartis, a company based in Switzerland, a country with four official languages (none of them English) has called out in their disclaimer that they community is English language only.  Boehringer of course manages very nicely to deal with multiple languages!  You can see Gary’s presentation here.

There were also some great examples from companies other than Boehringer.  Sherri Matis-Mitchell from Astra Zeneca presented some really interesting information on how they are using social media listening in R&D.  This actually seemed to complement a theme than ran through the event – namely the move of social media from marketing and communicaitons into R&D.  There were a few other mentions of the use of social media in clinical trial recruitment.  Dr Alfred Steinhardt presented a really interesting case study where social media had been used to reduce clinical trial recruitment down from six months to five weeks.  The cost-saving implications for this are huge! 

He also mentioned a fantastic example where social media intelligence had unmasked a competitor creating multiple online profiles to negatively influence consumer behaviour via social media groups!  Sadly he would not divulge more information on this.

There was also a very brave step by Sanofi to have a lawyer come present at the conference.  Audrey Hagege presented on how legal need not be a barrier but should be a partner in social media development.  I thought it was fantastic to see someone from legal there and I really have to say hats off to Sanofi for have legal not only attend but also present.

We also had a large presence from the #hcsmeu twitterati.  There was @thibaudguymard from Merck who talked about Univadis France and some of the great work they are doing.  Having seen Shona Davis present around Univadis from the global point of view last year it was great to see the local point of view.

 We then also had a whole array of twitterati present “virtually” through video thanks to my ex-colleague Piotr Wrzosinski from Roche.  It brought back many happy memories I must say!

It was also interesting to see such a broad array of social media being presented.  Besides the Facebook and Twitter initiative already mentioned there was also a presentation by James Finney from Novozymes around their use of Linkedin and Claire Perrin from Lilly demonstrated an mhealth initiative in depression.  I was so impressed with the app that I wanted to get my father to download it to show to my brother (a GP) but sadly I could not find it in on iTunes.

Perhaps my very favourite presentation however was the one that brought us all back to the reality of social media.  Ben Furber from Asthma UK talked about having fun online and … the fact that social media is all about cats!  How true!  Yes at the end of the day social media is and always will be about cats ;)

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