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The convergence of rare disease, digital communications, and pharmaceutical marketing communications

Does Your Business Have a Social Life?

Posted by | 1:43pm on Wednesday, May 16, 2012

34% of consumers said content on social websites would affect their decision about taking a certain medication 

A recent report from the Health Research Institute at PwC confirmed that pharmaceutical companies remain slow to adopt strategic social media practices. While 8 of the 10 healthcare organizations surveyed did have at least some social media presence, consumers actually engage in 24 times more social media activity than any of these companies.

PwC’s report, titled “Social media ‘likes’ healthcare: From marketing to social business,” found that half of the organizations surveyed “worry about how to integrate social media data into their businesses and how to connect social media efforts to a return on investment.” Additionally, a majority of organizations “reported that their social media efforts were decentralized and managed by their marketing and communications departments.” In other words, pharma is just starting to get the ball rolling with social media, but their efforts remain at a tactical level rather than a strategic one.

Proceed with caution
To a certain extent, it is not surprising that pharma is cautious about diving right into the deep end of the social media pool. After all, regulatory guidance remains vague; the FDA has provided minimal direction with a limited scope. Nevertheless, PwC suggests (as do other industry experts including those at Siren) that the benefits of engaging in social media are too great to be overlooked. Companies should evaluate the benefits and minimize the regulatory and legal risks.

To illustrate these benefits, PwC provides numerous statistics on consumer social media use. The study found that one-third of consumers polled now use social media sites–including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube–to find healthcare information. Similarly, 40% of survey respondents said that they have used social media to search for health-related consumer reviews, such as evaluations of treatments or physicians. Clearly, people are already spending time online; it’s up to pharma to meet them there. To quote Ed Bennett, the social media director at the University of Maryland Medical Center, “If you want to connect with people and be part of their community, you need to go where the community is.”

Additional findings from the PwC report relevant to pharma include:

  • 68% of consumers surveyed would appreciate receiving information on discounts or coupons from pharma companies via social media.
  • 65% of consumers would find value in being able to voice complaints and seek customer service via social media.
  • 45% of consumers said that information gathered from social media would affect their decision to get a second opinion.
  • 34% of consumers said content on social websites would affect their decision about taking a certain medication.

The numbers tell the story
PwC’s statistics corroborate what we at Siren have learned through years of working with patients and healthcare organizations. The Internet has led to the rise of the empowered patient. We know that healthcare consumers, especially rare disease patients and caregivers, have an acute need to access health information, build communities and share experiences with other patients.

Future trend
As a sign of things to come, consider this last fact from the PwC report: More than 80% of individuals ages 18-24 would be likely to share health information through social media, and nearly 90% of these individuals would engage in health activities or trust information found via social media. That’s a huge segment of consumers who are ready and willing to build a stronger connection with the companies that supply their treatments.

What are your thoughts on the role of social media in the pharmaceutical industry?

(Image courtesy of smi23le on Flickr.)

About Justin McLeod

As a Content Developer, Justin assists the content team with defining a consistent and engaging tone for healthcare professional and patient audiences, creating content, conducting audience research and upholding regulatory compliance. Previous to joining Siren, Justin honed his content writing and editorial skills while working in both educational and medical fields. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois.

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