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 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?