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The Value of YouTube for Pharma

Posted by | 1:52pm on Friday, April 29, 2011
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there are more than 40 channels on YouTube from pharmaceutical/biotech companies 

Video is an engaging way to educate patients and healthcare professionals. Per Manhattan Research: “1 in 2 ePharma consumers prefers video to text due to their learning style. The study showed that online health videos result in consumers following up on the call-to-action, with 3/4 of viewers doing additional research.” Video is especially useful for patients with lower literacy levels.

Implications for Search
Universal Search (when search results offer images and videos, not just links to content pages on websites) is becoming increasingly important. Videos, properly submitted, are 53 times more likely to generate a first page Google ranking than traditional search engine optimization techniques, according to Forrester Research.

Many pharma companies have heard this message and are creating videos that they are posting on their websites. So why not put them on YouTube as well?

YouTube is Very Popular
In January 2011, YouTube.com ranked as the top online video content property with 144.1 million unique viewers. Data from comScore showed that 171 million U.S. Internet users watched online video content in January for an average of 14.5 hours per viewer. The total U.S. Internet audience engaged in nearly 4.9 billion viewing sessions during the course of the month. If YouTube were a search engine it would be second only to Google.

Pharma on YouTube
As of today there are more than 40 channels on YouTube from pharmaceutical/biotech companies. These include channels around prescription drugs, unbranded disease awareness and companies.

To Comment or Not To Comment?
Comments on a single video or a channel on YouTube can be turned off, allowed to go live immediately or sent for approval via email. Most pharmaceutical companies choose not to accept comments via their YouTube channel and refer people to other communication channels. The exception is the Johnson & Johnson Health Channel, where there are approximately 300 comments and 3.5 million video views. Rob Halper, who manages the channel, guest moderated the #SocPharm tweetchat and shared his insights.  When asked about comments Rob replied, “I moderate them myself. I only show them to lawyers if I think they involve adverse event reporting, which is very rare.” Rob then noted: “I should clarify that there are no videos with specific pharm brands mentioned. Almost all the videos are patient stories.”

Product Mentions
There have been two applicable FDA Warning Letters regarding video.

  1. On September 25, 2008, Shire was cited for putting a video on a website which was then copied by a user and put onto YouTube. Shire was cited for overstating the efficacy of Adderall XR; the video also omits important information regarding the risks associated with Adderall XR use. The key learning: safety information must be embedded in the video itself.
  2. On July 14, 2009, Abbott was cited for minimizing the risks, overstating efficacy and including unsubstantiated claims in a Kaletra video. The letter contends that the patient interview portion omits any discussion of serious risks, and relegates that information to the end of the program, “where it is unlikely to draw the viewer’s attention, and is displayed as a running telescript.” The key learning: as with any other medium, video must have fair balance.

It’s important to note that both these letters were not specifically about YouTube but about the content not following existing guidelines.

Why Not YouTube?
To create a channel on YouTube, with a customized URL, is free. You can also customize the graphic look and feel of the channel. My view is if you have videos, even a few, take advantage of the power of YouTube and post them there.

Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree.

(Image courtesy of Karl Jonsson on Flickr).

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

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  • http://twitter.com/JNJVideo Robert Halper

    Thanks for the mention, Eileen. Actually, there are probably about 3000 comments on all the videos combined!

    • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen O’Brien

      Rob – Thanks so much for correcting my error! You are right, I looked at an individual video and didn’t add them all up to get the 3,000 comments.

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  • http://www.bluefocusmarketing.com Mark Burgess


    I absolutely agree with the power (and use) of YouTube for Pharma. From your blog, interesting to read about J&J’s success using YouTube. By all accounts, YouTube is an grand global platform for marketers of all sizes (levels the playing field for small to mid-size marketers) with the big brands. But, beyond the platform itself, J&J is getting value from the channel. Rob Halper’s approach makes very good sense.

    Mark Burgess

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  • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen O’Brien

    On May 9, 2011 the FDA letter sent a letter to Warner Chilcott regarding a video about Atelvia posted on YouTube. Some overeager sales reps made the video which overstated efficacy and “makes representations about the use of Atelvia, but fails to present any risks associated with the use of Atelvia and fails to disclose the drug’s indication.” The full letter is here:

    Another example, which I had omitted in the post above, is Wyeth’s video for Premarin from August 2010: http://1.usa.gov/ifjY3p

    In both these cases the issue was, once again, the videos not following the established guidelines for promoting a prescription drug.

  • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen O’Brien

    Check out this Eye on FDA post where Mark Senak lists pharma YouTube channels, their uploads/views and change over time: http://bit.ly/oqR3U2

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