This week I returned back to basics.  I have been running some basic social media in pharma training sessions. I initially worried that they might be too basic.  After all social media is now one of the top channels for many of our stakeholders. Most professional people are active on at least Linkedin.  I need not have worried!

More of an issue was how to cover such a huge subject in just an hour session.  The answer was what I called a “whistle stop tour”.  I touched on most things but only briefly.  After the first run I took out a few slides to be able to have more time to answer questions.  I thought it might be interesting to share some of these questions – and my answers.

Do physicians use this channel for professional purposes?

YES! This remains a common misconception that healthcare professionals (HCPs) do not use social media for work.  It was not too long ago that I was still having to convince people that HCPs did actually use the internet for work.  I never hear that anymore and I hear less and less people asking about social media use. But clearly the question is still out there.

The fact is that over 50% of HCPs are now digital natives – they grew up with social media.  Why would they not use it for work?  In fact in Europe over 80% of HCPs use social media for professional purposes.  It is also a channel that can provide HCPs huge value.  It enables them to reach out to a broader community to learn, ask questions and share knowledge.  There are also well established HCP-only networks, such as Sermo.  These offer a safe environment to discuss things with other HCPs.  However you can also see flourishing activity on public channels such as Twitter, such as the example below.

medical twitter example


Is this channel really impactful?

It can be yes.  Like all things to get maximum impact you either have to put effort or money behind it.  However social media has a few things going for it to make it particularly impactful.  First is the fact that if your content resonates people will share it.  This means you can reach a far larger audience, and in a more impactful way.  Secondly paid promotion costs can be very reasonable compared to other channels.  This makes it potentially a very cost effective channel.  Also if you want to get impact you need to be active where people are – and this happens to be social media for many of our stakeholders.

Another caveat is that of course if you want to see impact you have to do it well.  I have seen so many teams say they tried social media and it did not work.  Yet when I look at what they did I am not surprised!  Social media is now a highly competitive channel.  If you really want to see impact on social media you need to understand the channel, the customers and what content would resonate with them.  You need to be creative, human and present. Look at the example below from Boehringer Ingelheim.  2.1k shares!  I would say that is pretty impactful and no doubt a great ROI.

Boehringer facebook post

How do I identify which # to use?

This is a great question.  Hashtags still play an important role in social media.  If you want to reach the right people it helps if you use the right hashtag.  There are a number of ways to find your hashtag.  The easiest is you pay for the research.  This is something an agency can deliver.  You can also just look yourself.  Whilst you will probably get the same level of insight than if pay an agency to do this, it is cheaper! There are also quite a few free tools you can use, like

In fact this was one of my big calls to action in the training – just go look for yourself.  This way you can get a feeling for what is out there.  You may also get some great inspiration.

Can I share posts by my company?

This is a great question.  Every pharma company should at this point have a social media SOP and this topic should be covered in this*.  That said it still amazes me that there are companies out there without suitable SOPs.  Another issue is that were SOPs exist they are not widely distributed or made compulsory.  This raises huge issues around social media.  If a pharma employee uses their private account to share something non-compliant it can have major repercussions for the company.  For example someone in marketing tweeting about how great their product is, is a fine just waiting to happen.

The answer to the question though is generally yes.  As long as the post remains compliant, in your geography, then you can share it.  In fact getting employees to share social media content is a massive opportunity.  Consider a disease awareness campaign (i.e. compliant material).  If 1000 of your employees share it, that is promotion that did not cost you a thing.  The chances are among those 1000 share you will be hitting your target audience.

[*If your company does not have an SOP get in touch!  I have written many for pharma companies and happy to help]

If I work with influencers does the content they post have to go through the approval system?

As is so often the case the answer is “it depends”.  The easiest answer is that if payment was involved then probably yes.  If however they share your content or content about your brand of their own volition, and without being paid to do so, then no.  This is why having brand advocates active on social media can be so impactful.  As in any industry, or any channel, people who love your brand will champion it with their networks. They can talk about things that we as an industry may not be able to.  If they do so unpaid it is a thousand times more impactful.  Nonetheless there is a great deal of value to be had in paying influencers too.   If you have not considered how to work with influencers maybe it is time you did.

How do I respond to questions and comments?

This is another common question.  This has been one of the “scary” things about social media – the fact that people can engage directly with you.  We are a highly regulated industry and are restricted in what we can say in public on social media.  This has sometimes been taken as an excuse to just ignore questions or comments.  Bad move!  I compare it to how you might act if someone phoned you.  Would you put the phone down on them?  Or would you come up with a suitable response?  Hopefully the latter! Social media is no different, except that everyone else can see that you ignored that person.

The secret is being prepared and being human.  I always advise my clients to have a list of pre-approved responses for their social media.  This means if they get a question they can reply quickly (ideally within 24 hours).  These pre-approved responses should include how to respond when you cannot.  An example might be to explain that due to regulatory reasons you cannot answer the question on social media – suggest they talk to their doctor.  You can also have responses prepared so you can move the discussion out of the public domain.  There are then also “holding” responses.  These give you time to get back with a more appropriate response.  “Thank you for your comment, we’ll get back to you shortly” type answers.

It is also important to always remain human and empathetic.  Avoid pharma-speak and you are likely to get better results, particularly if you are trying to deescalate a potential issue.

In fact a number of these responses cover social media best practice.  Get back to basics and be prepared.  Do your research and understand the channel and the audience. Be engaging and human. Social media is can be a hugely impactful channel.  Use it!

If you are not sure how to use it use it or need support with training or other social media materials just get in touch with me.



%d bloggers like this: