Here’s an interesting pharma social media stat. Out of the top 50 pharma companies only 10 do the top three social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (source: Fierce PharmaMarketing)

There are two types of pharma marketer: one that finds that stat pretty impressive and one that finds it pretty sad. I find it sad but that’s probably because my background is social media. I’m familiar with all the types of features offered to brands and there’s almost always a workable option depending on your goals. There are certainly obstacles in pharma, but it just takes some creativity. For instance…

Worried about the FDA?

Consider an official corporate brand page and put the focus on your company, not your products. What research is being done? What events are happening? This option is PR friendly and key to building brand loyalty with patients.

AstraZeneca’s corporate Twitter page.

AstraZeneca’s corporate Twitter page.

Totally uncomfortable putting your brand out there?

Consider an unbranded page. What are you offering your patients? Chances are you have info, data, and tools, but are they being utilized on your website? Why not offer your audience something they need— awareness, information, a community—in a place they already go to socialize. Social is a way to connect with your audience in a meaningful way.

UCB’s “More Than Motion” unbranded Facebook page

UCB’s “More Than Motion” unbranded Facebook page

Calculated Risk

The FDA, approval committees, lawyers, compliance, black box, blah blah blah…I get it, but waiting for the FDA to come up with rules for social media got us nowhere for several years. No wonder the pharma industry is already a decade behind. Now we have recent guidance documents that give some indication of the guiding principles FDA will apply to social media—and we see that those principles are extensions of what we’ve seen from FDA for decades. But these guidances don’t come close to covering every considerable situation. As we’ve seen, the FDA sometimes doesn’t know what it wants till it sees what it doesn’t want. Meaning, the social media moves pharma is making right now will inform future social media policy. So I’m not saying to go out and break the rules while the area is gray, but with risk comes reward. There is enough FDA guidance out there to build an effective social strategy that honors the spirit of the recent guidance documents. If the top 10 pharma companies can do it, so can you. Waiting (years) and coming up with a social strategy based on what someone else has done means no leadership and no growth through that channel.

Comments Enabled

Besides the FDA, another big issue with social media seems to be open access to commenting. I really don’t get that. The patient is why we exist and we are constantly trying to understand them better. Social media is that direct connection! Ok, so the Internet is filled with insane trolls who go looking for trouble. You could make the argument that any press is good press, but let’s not even go there. (I won’t feed those trolls). There is always good with the bad – genuine patients and caregivers looking for your brand. There is also an audience of potential patients who would connect with your brand if you gave them a good reason.

Although user comments, in general, aren’t technically your problem (see our guide to the FDA guidance here), pharma should pay attention. If you are really worried about the negative things people have to say about your company, brand, or product – maybe you should acknowledge that there is a problem and I don’t know, change it. One-way communication is not cutting it anymore; patients aren’t faceless metrics or actuarial tables. The patients are taking control, taking responsibility, and they are much wiser than before. You can run, but you can’t hide, so you might as well own it. And not just own it, but invest in it and make it a priority (for all you budget haters right now).

To Be Continued…

Great idea in theory, but how do you actually start your social strategy? And what’s the end result? Join me for part two, which will dive into social media research, ROI, strategy, and content marketing.

About Kelsey Malone

Kelsey is a search engine marketing specialist with Star Life Sciences. In her spare time, you’ll find her pioneering the Internet and fearlessly adapting to Google’s latest updates. Most likely she'll be looking at pictures of cats.

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