While many businesses have raced to build their presence in the online social sphere, pharmaceutical companies have been typically shielded away from these channels over concerns with liability for monitoring adverse events and entering unknown territory. It’s understandable, as, not surprisingly, pharmaceutical is under greater scrutiny than many other industries. But as social media reached a tipping point in 2011, with mainstream acceptance among marketers, we also saw many more leading pharmaceutical firms making broader forays into social media.
Here are a few notable examples:
- Bio-pharmaceutical firm UCB, Inc., and PatientsLikeMe, an online community for people with life-changing conditions, partnered to create an open epilepsy community online to capture real-world experiences of people living with epilepsy in the United States.
- Johnson & Johnson established an innovative Acuvue Acuminder Facebook application, which reminds people when it’s time to change their contacts. It is a frequently cited example of social media success in the industry. Johnson & Johnson’s leading social media efforts also expand well beyond Facebook to include a YouTube channel, several Twitter handles and a corporate blog.
- GSK was among the first pharmaceutical companies to incorporate social elements into consumer outreach efforts. A few years ago, when social media was really just starting to hit the mainstream, GSK targeted U.S. adults, ages 18 to 34, with an unbranded website and campaign designed to increase awareness of genital herpes—including treatment options for the sexually transmitted disease. GSK earned significant recognition from the medical and public health communities for sponsorship of this campaign, as well as for the social value it created.
In 2011, GSK fortified its social presence with its branded “More Than Medicine” blog. Designed to encourage more open and productive dialogue with consumers in the United States, the blog is used to share news about the company (including coverage in major media outlets) and its innovations, its corporate social responsibility efforts, developments in healthcare reform, and information about chronic diseases, among other topics. GSK also now maintains a Twitter feed.
- Another pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, reached out to audiences across Europe in 2011 with a quit-smoking campaign that included the push of a “Serious Quitters’ Arcade” games site through Twitter activity, video seeding and a Pac-Man-inspired Facebook app. (It is possible this pan-European effort may have helped Pfizer earn the number-one spot in a recently released study by Paris-based Cegedim Strategic Data, which compared pharmaceutical companies' spend on traditional promotional channels to their presence on two leading social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.)
Social channels represent a powerful marketing opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to build and foster relationships with existing customers and new audiences. Seeing the success companies across industries are having with social media, it’s no surprise more pharmaceutical companies are deciding to plunge deeper into social waters. However, what’s also clear is that broadening engagement in social channels makes good business sense, as fostering ongoing and positive dialogue with consumers will only help the industry to better serve patients.