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.
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.
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?
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 www.hopeforstrays.com). 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?
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.
A few years ago it was totally normal to have to convince people that digital was a valid, and important, channel. That fact is now a given – and yet there are still people who need to be convinced. One issue is that traditional marketing is a safe option and it has worked in the past. During this tough economic times people are more wary of trying something “new” (even if strictly speaking digital is no longer new) and this is why they need convincing that they should shift some of their budget from their “safe” traditional channels to this “new” and “dangerous” channel.
The trouble is that this traditional way of splitting budgets no longer matches users needs and behaviours. How come some pharmaceutical companies are spending less than 5% of marketing and sales budgets on digital when physicians, for example, would like to receive over 60% of their product information online? This seems like a huge disconnect with reality and customer needs and cannot be sustainable.
It also seems rather ludicrous given clear direction from customers, physicians as well as patients, that they want more information and resources digitally, that we still need to stand up and argue the need for more digital to be included in the marketing and communications mix. We should no longer need to be trying to persuade senior managers on the need for digital – rather we should be working with them to look at how best to integrate on- and off-line resources and how to get a more balanced marketing mix.
There will always be a need off-line materials but they should work in harmony with online elements and all marketing and communication elements should be integrated and optimise each other. There is no battle between digital and traditional – one is not better than the other on its own. Rather they tell a far more powerful story when combined in an integrated and strategic way based around customer, and organisation, needs. Just like a the colours of the rainbow are truly impactful when joined together in a smooth combination, communications should be joined together to provide an impactful and memorable experience for the end audience.
Right now the pharmaceutical audience is just getting a huge sway of reds and oranges but there are hardly any blues coming through which is not impactful at all. We need to stop defending why we even need digital, and and stop fighting to get more digital budget, but instead we need to start working on getting the mix and colour combination as perfect as a rainbow.
One of the painful facts of life is having to work and interact with people who think they know it all or believe they know what they are talking about. This is equally true in digital in healthcare. On the one hand we always talk about wanting more digital and social media activity in the industry but on the other hand we do not want it done badly. People who think they know what they are doing can be very dangerous if let loose on digital or even worse on social media.
The classic example here is the traditional pharma marketeer with years of traditional marketing experience who sees digital as “just another communication channel”. Whilst it is true that digital is another communication channel it is none the less distinct and requires some different thinking than traditional marketing. Digital does need to be integrated and work with the traditional marketing but it is not a simple “copy and paste” of the offline campaign. The “campaign” (see next post) needs to be adapted to suit digital – so for example a traditional sales rep print-out does not work as-is as an app for iPads or for an interactive edetail.
Digital also goes further and works differently than traditional marketing. At congress it is no longer just about the booth. Online activity at and around congress spikes substantially. Tightening budgets, both for organisations but also for HCPs, means that attendance is not likely to keep growing but interest will. People who are not able to attend still want to be able to follow the key issues and information being released at congress by going online. By restricting marketing at congress just to booth activities and ignoring the wider online ecosphere traditional orientated marketeers are missing a huge opportunity.
Another issue with “know it alls” is when they want to digital for the sake of doing it and ignore advice and guidance because they “know it all”! This is an unfortunate trait that goes across life (and there are some fabulous offline examples from the consulting industry) but unfortunately digital can amplify any mistakes made.
Sometimes education is a good way to tackle this issue – it can help to show people how digital really works and what the true benefits are. Of course the issue with the last example comes in that some people do not believe there is anything more they can learn and that they do indeed know it all. In these cases having good risk mitigation and crisis management plans in place is vital – if things go wrong then you are ready to tackle them!