Why do we need to be social?  More particularly why do we need to be on social media? As you may know I am a huge advocate for social media.  It provided me a lifeline may years ago when I was terribly ill. There are a myriad of reasons why we need to be social and present on this channel.

Despite its faults it is still a channel that can save lives.  I know so many patients who have improved their health thanks to social media.  I have seen how the support of other patients can be invaluable, especially in rare or autoimmune diseases.  Through social media patients can access information that they may not be getting from their healthcare providers.  The impact social media has on speeding up diagnosis can be significant.  Contacts on social media may encourage someone to take a symptom seriously and talk to their doctor.  Social media networks can also empower undiagnosed patients not to give up and to keep pushing until they get their answer.

Social media has also become a key source of information for many people.  This can of course be good or bad.  Recently I wrote about the dangers of fake news.  We must however balance this was the huge positives of having easy access to useful information.  It is full of credible information and support, both factual and emotional.  It is also a great channel to find links to other resources.

A large amount of this information and support comes from patients and patient associations. So why does pharma need to be social?  I have heard many times from pharma clients that social media is not the right channel for pharma.  I totally disagree.  Social media provides pharma companies with a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in patients lives.


Despite GDPR making this a little harder social media is still a treasure trove of patient insights.  For R&D teams getting insights into patient’s unmet needs and what really matters to them can provide input into trial development.  Trials build on great insights can increase the chance of products making it through to approval.  Understanding the needs but also language being used by patients leads to more impactful communications and activities.  Identifying which social media channels are being used by the target audience indicates where to place promotion.

Driving traffic

One of the “easier” uses of social media for pharma is as a promotional channel.  By this I do not mean product promotion (a big no-no outside of the US & NZ).  I mean promotion to other assets, such as trial recruitment or disease awareness websites.  In fact if you are recruiting for a clinical trial then the question really is why are you not on social?  It should be a given that social media is a key recruitment tool.  Getting patients recruited quicker has a direct impact on trial costs.

Raising awareness and providing information

Social media in pharma is probably most well known for disease awareness and information.  Given that this is where people spend increasing amounts of their time, it makes sense that this is the place to post content to raise awareness around diseases.   This becomes even more powerful when you start to look at rare disease or autoimmune diseases.  Raising awareness of a disease can support improved diagnosis. This in turn can have a direct impact on sales.

If pharma really wants to be patient centric then they should ensure patients have access to accurate information.  Social media is the natural place to seed this information. Whilst this may not have a direct impact on sales it can have a big impact on reputation.  This is something that has long been an issue for the industry and still needs addressing.

Providing support

Perhaps the hardest one for pharma is providing patient support.  Regulatory constraints mean pharma cannot talk about their products.  This has acted as a huge barrier to engaging directly with patients.  Whilst there is a limit to what support can be provided that does not mean there are no opportunities – or indeed obligations.  Many people now turn to social media when they want to contact companies for information.  Social media is full of patients reaching out to pharma companies with questions around product supply for example.  They expect basic customer service and there is no reason not to provide this.  Again it is good business – ensuring patients have access to products helps sales. it is also the ethical thing to do.

There are other ways pharma can provide support.  For example sharing hints and tips around living with a disease, such as recipes or patient hacks.  Ensuring patients know how to deal with side effects can also be extremely useful to both patients and pharma.  More adherence helps sales.  Another win win.

One question I get asked though is whether the above is not the responsibility of Patient Association Groups (PAGS).   There is also the question of whether PAGs are better placed to provide this support.  In some disease areas this is absolutely true.  In others, such as rare disease, or in smaller countries with no local PAGs this may not be the case.  In these areas there is often a lack of information and support.  Here pharma can truly bring value to patients.

There is clear value in patients in having access to high quality and credible resources and information.  If the information is valuable and useful who cares where it comes from.  For the pharma industry supporting patients also makes financial sense.  It is also very clearly the ethical thing to do.  If you work in the pharma industry your whole raison d’etre at the end of the day are patients.  Without patients there would be no pharma industry.

So why should we be social?  Because it is the right thing to do – for everyone.


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