I have been working in pharma social media for over ten years and I am happy to say I have seen a huge amount of change during this time. Back in the day there were only a few of the big pharma companies that actually had a presence on social media, and virtually none of these actually engaged or enabled any form of two way discussion.
In the early days Facebook allowed pharma companies to have comments disabled which led some to set up Facebook pages that were essentially just another way of broadcasting corporate blurb, safe in the knowledge that people could not engage with them. One of the exceptions was Boehringer Ingelheim who very early on saw the value in engaging with stakeholders. Then it all changed when Facebook removed the exception and from one day to the next comments become enabled. This led to many closing their Facebook accounts and for some it took years before they set up a page again.
Fast forward to today and most big pharma have a Facebook page of some sort. Most are now also on YouTube and Twitter – but again not all. I am still amazed that in this day and age, when social media has become a main communication channel, that big pharma companies are not present on Twitter. That said many of those that are present are not using Twitter well or delivering (and getting) value from the platform. An example of this is around conferences where more HCP participate remotely than in person, and yet many company Twitter feeds still only cater to those physically present at the event.
One of the reasons for this remains a lack of understanding of the channel, how to use it and the value it could, and should, be delivering. This is compounded by a lack of resourcing in this channel, still seen by many as a “nice to have” or a dalliance, rather than a main stream channel. This lack of resources is seen both in terms of lack of training but also in terms of teams and content.
One of the results of this lack of attention to this channel is that what is being shared has often been of low value, which results in low engagement, which then compounds the issue as managers show these low results as justification for not investing in the channel. Another issue that this is a channel that is hard to tie directly to sales results, and which tends to need long term investment.
This is however a channel that we as an industry must accept and start using properly, as more and more people stop using email as their main channel and turn to social media instead (this has already happened in China for example). If we want to engage with our customers we have to learn to engage properly through the channel of their choice. The days of broadcasting the message we want to, via our channel of choice, regardless of what our customers want, have gone, and we must move with the times if we want to remain relevant and competitive.
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.
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.
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.
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
Looking 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.
I was recently involved in a workshop for a pharmaceutical product and one element we talked about was the emotional journey a patient goes on, and how digital tools played a role in that journey. This really resonated with me as a patient.
We are of course all patients at some stage or other, but some of us are patients with chronic or long term illness which require on-going treatment. In my case I have Hashimoto’s, which causes hypothyroidism, and I will need to take thyroid hormones the rest of my life. My journey as a patient with a thyroid condition has been highly emotional, distressing and sometimes extremely difficult.
A patient will experience a whole array of emotions as they go through their own journey. Mine started with joy when I was told I had hypothyroidism – I finally had a reason to my sudden and excessive weight gain. Unlike in some other conditions I never really felt isolated, in part because I was very open on Facebook about my hypothyroidism, and this resulted in a surprising number of other friends also identifying that they had the condition. I also initially did not have many problems, it was only in the last year or so that things got worse and it was at this point that I would have been in danger of feeling very alone with my condition had it not been for Facebook.
As my condition and health deteriorated, the journey became more emotional and more distressing. I put on weight again, felt lethargic and was constantly tired, and I felt depressed and low. I was very miserable. I also got increasingly desperate. As an educated woman, working in the healthcare industry, I knew that something was not right with my health – something was wrong. As per my previous post I received absolutely no support (informational or emotional) from my then doctor.
In the days of old I would have been totally alone at this point in my journey. I would not have known that it was not right that I was feeling this ill. I would have been totally dependent on my doctor’s response (good or bad). I have no idea how I would have coped with the despair, the depression and the fear (and believe me thinking that you may spend the rest of your life feeling exhausted and listless is very frightening).
Fortunately today we have the internet and social media. It really was a game changer for me and my disease. I already knew that my symptoms were common for hypothyroidism but what confused me was that I was already on a very high dose and should have felt fine and full of energy. I was terrified of lowering my dose and feeling even worse (and putting on yet more weight) and yet this is what my blood results indicated I needed to do. I was also scared that it was just me – that other patients coped fine and it was just my body not working properly.
Through a support group on Facebook I very quickly found out I was not alone. In fact far from it. It turns out there are many patients on treatment but having issues with their health, their symptoms and their doctor’s response to their concerns. It was such a huge relief to find out I was not alone and to have fellow patients to share my story with and to be able to connect with people who felt exactly like me. The emotional support that this virtual engagement provided was immeasurable. I no longer felt alone and the feeling of despair went down as I felt there were answers and there was hope.
It was through this support that I found the strength to question my previous doctors’ response and seek further treatment. I paid, out of pocket, to see an endocrinologist in the UK and I armed myself for that appointment with as much knowledge as I could, from the internet, in order to ensure I received the optimal treatment for me.
My appointment with Dr Morris was like chalk and cheese compared to the Spanish endocrinologist. He was supportive, listened to me and provided some solid advice, which included bringing my dose down. The way he advised me took some of the fear out of lowering my dose.
The rest of the fear was taken away because, through my online searches, I had found out that in a very small minority of patients being on too high a dose can cause the same symptoms as hypo even though they are hyper. Turns out I was one of this small minority.
The other thing Dr Morris did was confirm what I had suspected – my hypothyroidism was caused by Hashimoto’s disease. Following the Spanish endocrinologist’s failure to tell me what was causing my hypothyroidism I had gone online and done my own research using my blood results. Through this research I had self-diagnosed Hashimoto’s but it was also great to get it confirmed by a physician.
Armed with this confirmed diagnosis I did more research. Through support groups and blogs I found out that most Hashimoto patients have some form of gluten intolerance and that eliminating gluten could help improve health outcomes. Not one of the doctors I had spoken to over the last couple of years ever talked to me about my diet and the impact lifestyle changes could have on my disease. It was only through interacting with other patients online and doing my own research that I found out about the changes I needed to make to my diet and lifestyle.
As a result of my online research, I now no longer eat gluten and I have reduced the amount of goitrogenic food such as cabbage. I am also very careful about getting enough sleep and staying healthy. The impact this has had has been huge. I feel relatively normal again now, and whilst I still get tired easily I no longer feel depressed or listless.
My emotional journey has now come to a point where I feel confident and hopeful. Some fear still remains, for example how my need for ten hours sleep will impact my work and the fear that I may feel ill again in the future. But for now, thanks to resources and information I found online, my main emotions are relief, happiness and hope. I do not know where my patient journey will take me to next but I am certain I will find the support and resources I will need online.