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traditional marketing and social media: a blended approach for pharma

Social media is changing the way people interact with brands and companies. Ok, so pharma companies are highly regulated. But that does not mean they cannot be creative and include social media as part of the overall marketing strategy. Large organizations such as pharma do have marketing expertise and funds. They just need to find a perfect mix.

How is social media marketing different from traditional marketing?

  • Traditional marketing utilizes advertisements and campaigns (for example television, print advertisements)
  • Social media includes social media platforms and is about conversations and engagement (for example Facebook, Twitter)

What role does social media play in large traditional organizations such as pharma?

  • At present, it is used mainly to broadcast corporate messages and not for engagement with people online
  • It is still considered an afterthought after all traditional marketing promotional materials have been completed

What direction is the field of pharma marketing heading?

  • Social media is still not considered a priority
  • Social media is not an integrated part of the overall marketing strategy
  • Patient leaflets, eDetailing, symposia, exhibition stands continue to come first
  • In the US we still see standalone DTC (direct to consumer) advertising
  • Still Playing it safe with social media platforms

How are traditional pharma marketing campaigns viewed today?

  • Non-engaging and not a two-way dialogue
  • Expensive
  • Tone deaf
  • Less inspiring since alternative media channels are becoming more and more attractive to consumers

Is traditional advertising still an effective means of marketing a new product or service?

  • Even though online and social media marketing seems to have captured the attention of younger generations, this does not mean that traditional marketing is dead
  • Traditional marketing still has a role in raising awareness of a new product or service
  • Some modifications need to be made to traditional marketing in order to be appropriate in the electronic age
  • Healthcare professionals (HCP), patients, policymakers and people are online so a well-balanced mix of social, traditional and face to face marketing would be a perfect formula for pharma
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what does social media success look like for pharma?

Social media marketing measurements are not so straightforward and easy to measure. At the same time, social media platform offer so many opportunities for pharma. When asked what does social media success look like for pharma, for me the following 5 elements are key.

Social media success for pharma is reach and/or audience

  • Reaching the broadest audience is the ultimate goal for any social media presence
  • A slow and organic building of an audience will take time (aka no overnight success) but it is the one which pays off in the long run
  • An audience gives a privilege to communicate
  • An audience gives you a competitive edge
  • An audience makes you an authority

Social media success for pharma is engagement

  • Your audience is built of people, not consumers
  • Engagement is a paradigm shift in how pharma companies and brands engage with people
  • It is all about values and interests and this relationship is built across a dialogue
  • A good mix of social media platforms allows for engaging with different audiences on different platforms

Social media success for pharma is being inspiring

  • Make content that is inspiring, not just pushing your brand
  • Always ask yourself how can I take this information and make people care about it
  • Make people enjoy what pharma does (not hate you)
  • Gain inspiration from what your audience is asking or saying online

Social media success for pharma is educating

  • Be the go-to source for information
  • Explain the research you do – break research down and make it relatable and understandable
  • Don’t just push your same old marketing messages or DTC commercials – provide something of value

Social media success for pharma is being relevant

  • Just do not tout your product (which is so evident)
  • Listen to what people are saying or talking about on social media
  • Mine the conversation (large or niche) and try to become a part of the conversation
  • Proactively try to reach your audience and answer their needs, not yours
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what can pharma learn from NASA about social media?

NASA a large organization, with over 500 social media accounts, has been able to build an audience with over 18 million Twitter followers. It is present on diverse social media platforms, from Twitter to Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and Snapchat. How does NASA do it? And what can pharma learn from NASA about social media?

What do NASA and pharma have in common?

  • Both are large organizations
  • Both have many social media accounts
  • Both deal with a lot of bureaucracy and red tape – NASA is a government agency and pharma is heavily regulated
  • Both tend to be pretty traditional & not open to change

What is the overall social media objective(s) for NASA?

  • Make NASA information interesting for people
  • Reaching the broadest audience possible

How does NASA decide what gets posted? Is there an approval process?

  • Accounts are managed by civil servants and are empowered to use social media
  • No approval process, anyone can post, this can lead to mistakes but it is also powerful
  • No social media policy – everyone is referred back to existing communications policy (social media is just another method of communication)
  • No committee, no bureaucracy, just people passionate about space exploration
  • There is collaborative effort among diverse departments

Which social networks is NASA most focused on?

  • Goal is to frame the content as best as possible for each platform
  • Platforms are constantly evolving and this allows for new ways to frame content
  • The importance of influencers in social media cannot be overstated

What kind of content works best?

  • NASA uses social media to tell a story – a story of why space exploration is important
  • Content that is relevant
  • Content that educates and entertains at the same time
  • Content that is tailored to every social media platform and for your audience



The Science of Social Media: Inside NASA’s social media – John Yembrick (podcast)

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why is pharma afraid of social media?

Other industries are using social media platforms to converse. Pharma is still using social media platforms to broadcast news. This includes corporate news, regulatory approvals, conferences, disease awareness and corporate responsibility. Why is pharma afraid of social media?


Why is pharma afraid of social media?

  • Pharma is a heavily regulated industry
  • Guided by external rules (for example the FDA) and internal rules (legal and regulatory)
  • Fear of getting a warning from FDA
  • Fear of being hit with fines from FDA
  • Fear of illegal or unprofessional behavior on social media platforms
  • Fear that they will have to change their business model


Is it the social media platforms or the content that pharma gets in trouble for?

  • Obviously, pharma gets in trouble for the content, not the platforms


What does pharma need to change?

  • Right now it looks like it is just marketing thrown out or press release posted on the diverse platforms
  • Pharma is still trying to find their way in social media and still does not understand how it can be used beyond branding
  • Pharma needs to enrich the experience of readers with content – competition for content is increasing and harder to grab attention
  • Work on enriching content; make the content interesting and fun and want to read and share
  • Make social media and content strategy a priority
  • Build in-house social media & content marketing expertise


What can pharma learn from other highly regulated industries such as financial/banking sectors that use social media?

  • Set content standards – communication must be accurate, fair, balanced and not misleading
  • Consider pre-approved content or messages
  • Plan content and implement carefully
  • Have a system in place to capture and preserve social media communications
  • Have in place a supervision of communications – enable but at the same time be compliant
  • Focus on risk management and have in place a risk management plan


So how can a highly regulated industry use social media?

  • Need to have a clear vision of why you are on social media
  • Learn and understand through social listening
  • Promote unbranded health awareness
  • Rethink core business – think in terms of a service and not in terms of selling a product
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why do we share on social media

I often ask myself why do I share on social media. My reason would be I guess I like to share valuable information, if I found it important than maybe some else will too. Sharing on social media is also my business card, it is my personal brand, I like others to see what I am doing. For pharma understanding the psychology of social media sharing 1) will help to understand how social media works and 2) put more effort behind content strategy and creation that will be more shareable.


Why do people share on social media?

  • People are intrinsically inclined to sharing
  • Sharing is an emotional experience and it evokes positive emotions in people
  • People like to share content that is entertaining and hope that others find it amusing as we did
  • People like to share useful information and hope someone else may find that same information useful
  • We share things about ourselves – psychiatrists refer to this as self-presentation – controlling or shaping the way you want to be seen
  • We share because we want to tell or show people who we are and what we really care about – self-expression
  • We share to stay connected with other people and to strengthen relationships
  • We share because we build our social currency -when we share the right type of content we gain social currency
  • We share to support a cause and this is by far the most powerful reason to why we share


What kind of content do people share?

  • Content that is entertaining or amusing
  • Content that provides information that is useful
  • Important news or breaking news
  • Where we have been and what we are doing
  • Content that supports a cause – this is probably the most powerful content people share on social media (think for example the ice bucket challenge)


Where do brands in general fit in?

  • People trust people more than brands
  • People do like brands – we identify ourselves with brands
  • People, however, feel brands are not authentic, so they are not shared
  • Shared values is a bigger driver for building relationships than lots of interaction with a brand


Where does the pharma brand fit in?

  • Pharma has a trust issue (which is not a new issue)
  • People do share a lot of information against the pharma companies – for example, #epigate:
    • ridiculous price gauging to unhappy customers to comparing prices,
    • stories of parents and pictures of EpiPen purchase receipts & prices they had to pay


Which kind of content should pharma focus on that will make people want to share?

  • Values come first – if people share the same values as companies then they will share their content
  • Get rid of the noise – that means less paid promotion
  • Create content that responds to emotions
  • Work on amplifying great content
  • Understand which kind of content people want to share -think of buyer personas
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is pharma instagrammable

I often hear people on social media platforms say “wow that is so instagrammable”. What do we mean by being instagrammable? We find it everywhere: restaurants, nature and in the art world. But is pharma content instagrammable?


What do we mean by “being instagrammable”?


What works on instagram?

  • great photography
  • creative photography
  • stunning visual content
  • fantastic colors
  • hashtags – make sure you get your hashtags right and are monitoring
  • posting own photos


What audience is on instagram?



  • More interesting stats can be found here:

Can pharma be on instagram?

  • yes, they just have to choose the right content
  • creative original brand pictures work well on instagram, but pharma is a highly regulated sector
  • make it a photo moment
  • make it an experience, a customer experience
  • get artists and creatives on board and be more creative
  • consider event content that is more instagrammable, make stands and booths fun to visit both in person and on instagram
  • do not make it so “brand – artificial”, make it real


Is any one pharma company doing it right?

here is my ranking with comments of some examples of pharma on instagram and trying to get it right:

  • some great instagrammable shots:



  • needs work on:



Novo Nordisk

  • so many accounts:


  • the worst:

Sanofi (seriously a private account????)

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patient advocacy in an age of social media


Social media platforms are an incredibly powerful tool and have been the main empowerment tool for patients. How is social media disrupting traditional patient advocacy and what must pharma do to stay ahead?


How have social media platforms changed traditional patient advocacy?

  • Social media allows for global networking & making connections worldwide is easier
  • Social media makes it easier to get message across instantaneously – real-time communication
  • Social media makes it easier for patient advocates to network or interact with other patients
  • Social media makes it easier to meet and reach new communities/patients or consumers
  • Social media allows for remote patient advocating; establishing and explaining your position not only with policymakers but with the public
  • Social media allows patient advocates to share clinical trial results and clinical research findings
  • Social media platforms are free and are cost-effective communication tools


How can you identify an influential patient advocate online?

  • Patient advocates engage in Tweet Chats – discussing important topics relevant to their disease areas
  • Patient advocates interact with online healthcare professionals
  • Patient advocates facilitate information creation and sharing
  • Patient advocates follow proper hashtags for disease topics
  • Patient advocates are bloggers that share their experiences


What are some of the tools out there for patient advocacy?



  • Tweet chats take place on Twitter platform and allow for conversations to take place around a keyword or hashtag. For example #BCSM (breast cancer social media)


Which social media platforms are best for patient advocacy?

  • Patients are meeting on different social platforms.
  • They join a FB group.
  • They recount their own story by Instagram.
  • They meet and share information and experiences on Twitter through tweet chats.
  • They blog their illness.


How can pharma use social media to embrace this movement and improve the patient experience?

  • Pharma needs to join in the conversation.
  • By engaging on social forums, pharma may better learn what questions patients are asking and what their real needs are.
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Social media and adverse events


More people are online today searching and sharing health information.  Social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, commenting on blog posts and participating in online communities such as tweet chats, facilitate this exchange of information. While people are participating and sharing their health experiences with others, it is a given that there will be discussion of treatments and possible adverse events. Regulatory agencies such as FDA in the US and EMA in Europe, monitor and collect data to ensure the safety of the public. Pharmaceutical companies also have the obligation to report to regulatory agencies adverse events. The question is can social media data mining and social media listening prove be useful in early detection of adverse events?

So what is an Adverse Event (also abbreviated AE or AEs)?

An adverse event can be defined as “Undesirable experience that is associated with the use of a medicinal product in a patient”.

In order to report an AE to the FDA, four criteria must be met and those are:

  1. an identifiable patient;
  2. an identifiable person reporting the event;
  3. a specific drug or biological product;
  4. an adverse event or fatal outcome suspected to be due to the suspect drug or product

What could be some of the opportunities of social media data mining or social media listening for adverse events?

  • It could allow for additional information to the already established safety profile of a medicine
  • Social media could be more useful for early trends detection or reveal new patterns, which can then be further investigated through research or observational studies
  • New technologies, could offer new possibilities for monitoring drug safety
  • It could provide for geo-monitoring for drug safety

What could be some of the challenges of social media data mining or social media listening for adverse events?

  • Adverse events or potential AEs can be ambiguous, especially due to the word or character limitations (for example Twitter 140 characters)
  • People use different language in social media (social media vernacular) such as hashtags, abbreviated words, slang words
  • There is a need to account for misspelled words, different languages, retweets or reposting, that is duplication within the same platform and / or across multiple platforms, and fraudulent postings
  • Possible bias regarding the demographics of Twitter users, such as age and location
  • People may fear being monitored or feel “Big Brother” is watching over your shoulder

What is being done to try and capture adverse events in social media?

Web-RADR (Recognizing Adverse Drug Reactions) Europe is funded by the Innovative medicines Initiative, which in turn is funded by the European Commission and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations. The initiative also involves drug regulators, pharmaceutical companies and the World Health organization and universities.

Epidemico, a health informatics company and a subsidiary of Booz Allen Hamilton, is working on developing algorithms to pick up adverse events from social media as part of Web-RADR project. The FDA is also collaborating with Epidemico to develop the digital data-mining platform, MedWatcher Social. MedWatcher Social (MWS) is a validated GxP (good for practice) digital listening platform that is designed to monitor social media information about drug safety.

Treato, a company based in Israel, the company offers a reporting tool so that organizations can log adverse drug reactions and it’s website allows patients to search for information that has been collected about other drugs. The goal for Treato is to capture early drug signals and improve patient outcomes.

IMS Health, through it’s social media analytics company Semantelli, has been analyzing adverse events and picking up signals on prescription drugs and over the counter drugs. Also IMS Health has been working on capturing signals on efficacy of drugs.

This sounds like an overwhelming task?

Yes it may well be overwhelming, but the information shared on the internet cannot be ignored today.  These networks play an important role in consumer health management for today’s modern patient, caregiver and consumer. However when confronted with regulatory risks and considerations, such as reporting of adverse events, healthcare industry feel the risks may outweigh the benefits in social media listening or engaging.


Social media and pharmacovigilance: A review of the opportunities and challenges. Richard Sloane, prod Osaniou, David lewis, Danushka Bollegala, Simon Maskell and Munir Pirmohamed. Br J Clin Pharmacol:Volume 80, Issue 4, pages 910-920, October 2015.

Systemic review on the prevalence, frequency and comparative value of adverse events data in social media. Su Golder, Gill Norman and Yoon K Loke. Br J Clin Pharmacol: 2015 Oct; 80 (4): 878-88.

Digital drug safety surveillance: monitoring pharmaceutical products in twitter. Freifeld CC, Brownstein JS, Menone CM, Bao W, Filice R, Kass-Hout T, Dasgupta N. Drug Saf. 2014 May;37 (5):343-50.

IMI Web-RADR Webinar: mobile technologies and social medias as new tools in pharmacovigilance.

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