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Pharma Social Media: Bridging the Gap to Consumers

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently released a new report entitled “Social media likes healthcare: From marketing to social business”, which covers fairly well the current trends in healthcare social media and the potential cost of inaction by the industry.  The forty-page report discusses consumer and corporate trends in the use of social media across key healthcare segments including providers, hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies.  Not surprising, the report concludes that, overall, the industry’s level of engagement falls way short of the apparent consumer demand for pharma social media engagement.  However, the report is weak on explaining current limitations placed on the industry, real or perceived, that contribute to the disparity in engagement observed across these segments.

But rather opining on the limitations, I actually want to focus this post on one particular finding in the report that I think supports the argument for an integrated approach when using social media in your communication efforts – integration of corporate and product social media efforts, as well as social media and traditional communications efforts.

I have been a longtime advocate and user of social media, but have also contended that social media, while incredibly powerful and rich with potential, should be but an arrow in a quiver full of communication tactics that can be deployed to achieve your desired goal.  The reason is because there is not only viability in many of the tactics of old – there is a need.  Particularly for those that promote human interaction and face-to-face relationship building or really any tactic that creates more of a connection with the end user of your product.  The results in this PwC report seem to support that position.

Of the 1,060 consumers surveyed on their likelihood to trust or share healthcare information via social media –consumers were more likely to trust or share information from healthcare players such as doctors (61%), hospitals (55%) and health insurers (42%) than the information provided by pharma companies (37%). 

I believe this tells us two things, the first which is pretty obvious… less than favorable attitudes toward pharma persist among consumers.  Also, there seems to a correlation between the level of trust established with each peer group and the level of personal interaction they might have with the consumer.  Both observations speak to the need for pharma companies to have a comprehensive communications plan that is inclusive of a variety of relationship building tactics, online and off, that don’t just push information – but build a rapport with the target consumer and your corporate brand, first and product brand, second.

For most consumers, “pharma” companies are an enigma that they don’t hear about or hear from unless it’s an unsavory news story or a product advertisement.  While there is sometimes a positive connection between a specific product brand and the pharma company, the collective efforts of a company are seldom fully realized.  In other words, the good will of one brand will not carry the company, much less the industry.

The role of social media in pharma communications clearly has great potential, but the divide that exists among consumers will not be bridged soley by the use social media, especially if its use is limited to the promotion of products.   Corporate use of social media, combined with the use of traditional communications tactics that educate consumers on efforts that are important to them on a personal level, will provide a basis for feeling connected to the company – and ultimately the product (and hopefully again the industry).


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