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The Future Of Pharmacetcials & Social Media

The Future Of Pharmacetcials & Social Media

Earlier this month event director James Saward-Anderson had the chance to speak to Social Media Strategy Leader at Roche Pharmaceuticals – Manu Field as he prepared to talk at Social Media In Pharmaceuticals 2020.

I asked him some of the big questions which the industry is facing as we head into 2020…

All of the opinions expressed below are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of his employer, F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd

1: You have spoken strongly about the need for the industry to adapt to the way patients and healthcare professionals communicate and learn online – would you be able to expand on this?

The Pharma industry in general has not yet got to grips with social media, which has always been a problem given the amount of money that has collectively been thrown at these channels, very often yielding highly questionable benefit for patients, customers or the company. As I see it, the time where we can continue to ‘play around’ with social media is ending. Given the major disruptions to the industry that have already begun, it is now imperative for all industry practitioners to sort out their whole approach to social media, before the storm hits.

The old paradigm where physicians are the only people who apparently are educated and wise enough to be able to even receive, less alone assess, information about pharmaceutical products, and are the only ones who can decide what treatment a patient can receive – often without the patient’s informed consent – is thankfully coming to an end.

What started during the Gen X and Millennial generations with the rise of the internet and the widespread availability of what was previously restricted medical information, will be completed by the inevitable societal takeover of Gen Z. I can’t see this generation ever accepting a situation where they are not 100% in control of their healthcare decisions. Doctors will cease to be the ‘patrician’ gatekeepers to healthcare, and become just like any other specialist trade – hired by patients to advise them on the best course of action, but not to make the final decision. Patients will finally become truly empowered.

2:  What role does social media play in this change?

In the new paradigm, being able to communicate with all relevant audiences – but especially the patient or caregiver – will become of primary importance. We know that these audiences are very often online, proactively searching for information and interacting among themselves on social media.

The key to being successful on social media is to be engaging, and to provide value to your audience – in whatever form that value may be. That value may well be in the form of something that has nothing to do with what we are selling, which can be a concept that is challenging for old-school marketers to grasp. When the current regulatory system is swept away by the incoming tide of change, only those companies who have figured out how to create and share that value effectively will prosper; the others will either have to radically change their approach under extreme pressure, or risk going under.

3: What elements form good social media strategy for the pharmaceutical industry on social media?

I can say straight away what bad social media strategy looks like, as I see examples of it on a regular basis. For example, it is often the case that someone has clearly realised that a congress or disease awareness day is coming up, felt that “we should be present to demonstrate our leadership”, and – without having any real insight into what the target audience may find of interest or want to see – has then pulled together some self-promoting, irrelevant and/or boring content that will only succeed in spamming the online conversation around said milestone.

Connected with this is the second problem I often see, which is when a social media strategy is developed that is somehow divorced from any overarching corporate/brand marketing objectives or customer/patient journey. The ‘tell’ here is quite often simply that the objective of the campaign is simply to get big impression, click and like numbers, with no thought given to how any of this advances patient’s lives, or business goals, or ideally both.

The likely result of both situations above will be a non-engaging, non-meaningful campaign that will consume a significant amount of time and resource to implement, for minimal benefit to anyone.

A good social media strategy will have extremely well defined objectives, which ladder up seamlessly to overarching business goals; a very clear target audience, described in fine detail; well-articulated success parameters, linked to the KPI(s) that will best allow us to measure campaign performance; great content that adds real value to that audience; and an intention to monitor the effectiveness of the campaign as it progresses, and to optimise it on the fly.

4: What are the biggest risks facing the industry when it comes to social media?

In my opinion, a significant portion of the industry is simply not ready for the paradigm shift that I described earlier, mainly due to the regulatory environment that we have been working in up until now. We are primarily set up to communicate with physicians, regulators and payers, as these were basically the only stakeholder groups that really mattered, to be able to sell our medicines and diagnostics. And even then, our default approach has been to ‘market’ our products to them, rather than engage with them on their terms – because we never really had to before.

Those companies that continue to see social media as a secondary marketing channel at best, and therefore fail to incorporate an audience- and content-centric mindset into all of their marketing and communications activities, will have significant challenges ahead.

5:  What are the biggest opportunities facing the industry when it comes to social media?

As I see it, being able to be truly successful on social media is not simply a question of tweaking processes or hiring some Gen Z’ers who were born knowing how to post on Instagram and TikTok – that’s just the ‘how’. What’s much more important is to change the whole mindset of how we do marketing in the future – the ‘why’. In what way can we provide value to our audiences, which will ultimately improve patients’ lives and drive the business forward?

Working around Pharma industry regulations is definitely challenging when considering open social media channels, but the opportunity to be able to show real, tangible return on investment with these activities is huge – far more so than we have ever had with our traditional activities such as congress exhibition booths, for example, where we continue to spend millions of dollars every year for next to zero demonstrable return.

In the end, I believe that we will all need to live and breathe the new mindset at some point, as doing so will cease to be optional. The potential benefits are huge and there for the taking – I strongly encourage everyone to make the leap.

 

All of the opinions expressed above are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of his employer, F. Hoffman-La Roche Ltd

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