What do you want to accomplish with social media?

According to 2015 IMS Health Data, how many of the top 10 prescribed pharmaceutical brands have a Facebook page? The answer might surprise you. One. If you look at the top 10 pharmaceutical brands by sales, the number doesn’t change, and in fact, the single brand remains the same, Nexium. These brands are blockbuster medications. They are supported by talented teams and robust budgets. So why are so few embracing social media?

Social media is not a passing fad and cannot be ignored. Pew Research reports that in 2015 65% of American adults use social networking sties. The numbers are staggering: more than 500 million tweets are sent per day, 510 comments are posted every minute on Facebook and LinkedIn adds two new members per second. We all know how we’ve integrated social media into our personal lives. And even those outside the norm who have deliberately elected not to create accounts and join in, cannot ignore the phenomena that is social media.

The reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to communicate through social media channels may be multilayered. At the heart of the matter may be a limited understanding of how to use social media to help accomplish your brand objectives. Tactics simply don’t drive strategy. What are your brand objectives? What do you hope to accomplish, and can social media play a constructive role?

Another factor impacting adoption is that although social media is relatively new, it already has strong conventions. Social media channels all have an immediacy to them and, even with user policies, remain largely unfiltered. You can voice your opinion, share a photo, make a claim, and post a recipe in seconds. Most interaction is not heavily vetted. Validity and relevance are determined by those viewing and engaging in the medium. In the world of social media, the good, the bad and the ugly are all fair game. This can be challenging for pharmaceutical brands that not only are heavily regulated, but are directly responsible for comments that are posted through any form of media that they fund. A false product claim. An adverse event. A non-indicated use. A benefit without fair balance. Each of these carry risk that needs to be mitigated. This is why so many promotional review committees, rightfully so, voice concerns and challenge their commercial colleagues as to what they hope to accomplish and whether it can be done so compliantly with social media.

Social media platforms are a product in their own right. When customers and constituents use social media, they have expectations. Just like a television commercial that carries no relevance and the viewer changes channels or gets up from the sofa, people will not engage in social media related to your brand unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Although motivated by your brand objectives, you must look at this from the perspective of your customer. What’s in it for them? What need are you meeting of theirs? Why will this social interaction hold value? Is there something that the customer can benefit from or receive from the social media channel that they would otherwise not be able to? There must always be a reason to motivate interaction. And that reason must be immediate.

Here are a few issues to consider when conceptualizing social media plans.

  • How does social media directly help support your brand strategy? What are the specific objectives you hope to accomplish? Why is social media the right way to help meet your goals?
  • Is there a real and pertinent reason for your customers to engage the brand via social media? What do they get out of the experience?
  • Social media is at its best when it is real-time, unrestricted, and relevant. This is what fuels viral sharing. The more social media is regulated, the less adoption, and greater difficulty in getting customers to interact. In fact, the ability to interact is paramount. How will the brand monitor interactions? Who in the organization will respond to comments and postings when appropriate? Who will make sure the user policy is being enforced and remove comments and postings that are not compliant?
  • Is having a branded social media channel the best way to accomplish your objectives? Many times advocacy groups, professional societies and other organizations will have established social media channels that are vibrant. In some cases, these channels represent a greater opportunity than either creating something from scratch, reinventing the wheel or building something that is encumbered by regulation.
  • Are you prepared to properly support your social media initiatives? Social media is a fast-burning engine that requires fuel regularly. Channels that are not regularly supported with content that is meaningful to customers stagnate quickly.
  • First impressions count, in fact, every impression counts. If customers don’t perceive value or a compelling reason to interact, they won’t stay or come back. It’s also much more difficult to motivate a user to return to a branded social media channel after an initial unfulfilling experience. You’ve got to make the moment matter.
  • Is what you are trying to accomplish more viable through social media and your corporate brand (vs. product or service)?

Perhaps unlike any other form of communication, social media happens with or without you. A brand’s presence within the chatter can be sponsored or spontaneous. Whether it makes sense or not to participate demands careful deliberation, strategic alignment, and the proper human, content and budgetary resources. Keep how you want your brand perceived in mind. Keep your customers and their needs in mind. And when social media is the right way to engage, be compelling and compliant.

by Jonathan D. Katz