Pharma and Social Media: Is Anyone Listening?
In January, the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics released a study on how pharma is using social media to engage with consumers. Of the top 50 largest pharma companies worldwide, only half use some form of social media. In fact, only 10 companies use the most popular sites – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Why is participation so low with demand so high?
Some may argue that HIPAA privacy issues and adverse event reporting requirements may play a role in the decision to avoid a potentially risky marketing strategy. Still, some of the biggest companies in the world, like top ranked Johnson & Johnson, are successfully doing it today. And consumer demand is there – patients are turning to social media for information and ideas that can improve their health, with younger people tending to conduct their research on social media channels prior to starting treatment and older generations (50+) turning to the web once treatment begins.
Just recently, the FDA proposed a set of social media guidelines to help clarify what is acceptable – and what isn’t – when it comes to using this marketing channel. At the heart of the proposal is the requirement that pharma companies post both the benefits and the risks associated with their product, with a link to a more detailed list of risks. The proposal also requires that the specific indication be spelled out for the consumer. So what this basically means is that pharma must be explicit about their drug, both the upsides and the downsides, when marketing online. The FDA also said it would allow “reminder” promotions that simply state the product name – so, apparently banner ads are acceptable as well. Finally, the FDA detailed how corrections should be made to incorrect information posted by third parties, in such areas as discussion forums and blog pages.
How can Pharma benefit from social media?
With guidance now available, will more companies participate? Clearly, they will be able to advertise in addition to the prospect of mining data from social media platforms. Pharma companies can review and seek trends in consumer comments, such as side effects or positive outcomes. That said, mining this Big Data is just the first step. To receive any value from it, the data needs to be analyzed and combined with other data sets to truly understand not only what the consumer is saying, but how that voice is reflected in other metrics, such as sales results or physician market research. In short, Pharma will need to integrate social media into their analytical capabilities. This will allow them to impact the entire pharma value chain – from finding underserved populations to focus R&D efforts upon, to finely tuning physician/patient marketing campaigns.
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