Do Patients Want Pharma Involved In Social Media?

With FDA guidance coming any day now (no really, any day now...) on how pharmaceutical companies should engage with patients through social media channels, there is sure to be an onslaught of new companies jumping into the mix. Make no mistake: these companies have been waiting on the sidelines in fear of a slap on the wrist from the FDA. With parameters on the way, companies that would otherwise be content to wait on the sideline will join the social media ranks.

That's not necessarily a good thing. Has anyone bothered to ask the patients whether they welcome the involvement of pharmaceutical companies and what need they would fill? We've all read the stats that support the idea there is a void waiting to be filled. Pew Internet reports that 61% of online users are actively seeking health information and that individuals with chronic diseases are more likely to spend time on social networks than the average individual. This may point to the patient appetite for content but it does not imply they want that content to come from pharmaceutical companies.



There is a common belief that even if the pharma industry decided to implement social media programs that patients would automatically rebuff its efforts. There is considerable logic to this line of thinking.

Individuals generally don't join a social network to engage with brands. Because of this dynamic, people are predisposed to place more scrutiny on a corporate entity than on an individual. This holds true for any company, but when you consider a pharmaceutical company, the effect becomes magnified.

Pharmaceutical companies are in a highly regulated industry where every move they make is placed under the microscope. More so than other industries, customers (in this case, patients) pick apart every message and every nuance that comes from a pharmaceutical company. When a pharma company decides to become an active participant in social media, you can bet a horde of people are watching its every move just hoping for a misstep.

This is the lens that shapes the opinion that pharma is not welcome in social media circles. Sure, patients are wary of the participation of healthcare companies for all of the aforementioned reasons. But even more so, they are wary because their health is at stake. This isn't a decision on which laptop to buy or which new cell phone has the best apps. This is a decision that literally impacts the way you live your life. Patients have every right to be wary of pharmaceutical companies.

But that doesn't mean they don't want and need them to be a part of their communities. Generally speaking, what someone suffering from an illness wants is information. It provides comfort, peace of mind and some semblance of control.

Patients want information. Pharma holds the information. Pharma has a unique ability, in fact a responsibility, to educate patients as much as possible. Why should a little extra scrutiny stand in the way? As a company, if you are there for the right reasons and keep the patient at the center of your decision-making process, you will welcome the added attention. What are you waiting for?

6 comments about "Do Patients Want Pharma Involved In Social Media? ".
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  1. Melissa Lande from lande communications, October 29, 2010 at 12:08 p.m.

    Paula Lynn is right. We liveina political world, driven my big money. Pharma is welcome to post all of the ads it wants. Pharm is welcome to engage in social media from it's own sites. But for Pharma to be involved in an actual community or social media world in general, this is a sell job to consumers. It's true consumers must be educated. That's what their websites are for and all of their brochures and public service projects. But if you cannot get it without a prescription, then you shouldn't be sold it "through talky talk" without a referring doctor. There is so much corruption in healthcare as well as state government and healthcare. Things need to be regulated. If the government is regulating what is FDA passed, then those FDA drugs must muster communication regulation as well.

  2. Chris Iafolla from WCG, October 29, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

    Paula, Melissa, thanks for your comments. Your perspective is not an uncommon one. It is clear that a deep distrust has developed for the pharmaceutical industry. But in my estimation, the majority of patients want health above all else. They want to engage with companies that are invested in their health and improving patient outcomes. Believe it or not, most pharmaceutical companies care deeply about the health of their patients. Do they want to make money? Sure.

    The idea you raise about misinformation is an interesting one. As I see it, the misinformation that is currently out there is staggering. Patients are advising other patients on dosing, when to stop taking their medications, etc...If anything, having pharma more involved in social media will decrease the misinformation online.

    Thanks again for your comments.

    -- Chris

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 29, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

    Chris, you need to wake up. Patients want info to be sure. That info needs to be coming from doctors who are informed by pharmas who are not bribing them. Public distribution of private information media - as you call social - will be destructive, not only with too many (one is too many) distributing false information with false promises (government regulation of health care to force multi trillion profit dollar insurance companies to cover cititzens is not government take over). Even smart people, when they are sick and want miracles make stupid mistakes and believe false promises. (see religion vs math and science) Those who are allowing themselves to be blinded by greedy pharmas, are begging to be controlled. Pharmas' greed needs to be controlled, not their ability to dispense information to medical professionals or make a profit.

  4. Mat Phillips, October 30, 2010 at 4:52 a.m.

    Chris, I find the question too leading. How can one generalise the views of patients ie everyone! Some will, some won't but the thing about social media is that the community will determine who to trust and what value is brought - you follow or unfollow according to what information you personally need. Does thepharma Industry have an issue with Trust? Of course, doesn't every large business sector. Ho do you build Trust? Engage or stand behind some bland Web1.0 sites? Pharma has to engage, and do it in a way that adds value. Sadly, for me the Pharma DTC ads in the US have distanced, not engaged the end consumer. We no longer need to tell, but listen, understand and converse!!
    Thanks for an interesting article.


  5. Jonathan Gardner from Vibrant Media, November 1, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.

    Consumers have shown they do want to interact with brands of all stripes that are engaging with them in relevant, contextual situations. Just look at the growth of Facebook as a brand engagement platform for example. This will continue to grow as consumers and brands can be assured of safety in the relationship through new technologies

  6. Kimberly Koehly, November 1, 2010 at 4:37 p.m.

    This is a fascinating and obviously polarizing topic. As an employee of an online publisher and a digital marketing professional, I have pondered many times why Pharma resists becoming a direct part of the conversation - regulations aside. We have a large community element on with a significant amount of UGC incorporated throughout the pages of our site. In our dialogue with a number of potential client partners, they have mandated that their ads and sponsored content NOT be anywhere near UGC. Again, regulations aside, I believe this is a cowardly stance for any company to take and one that consumers are going to start to use when they make purchase decisions - if you aren't willing to be a part of the conversation, you won't be a part of the purchase decision. Social channels are becoming mature enough now that consumers are going to know when they are being given a hard sell and the community at large will respond to those tactics. The Pharma companies that are ready to embrace more social media tactics as part of their marketing mix should be prepared to be transparent and responsive when threads of conversation are happening that incorporate their brand(s) - the same as all companies participating in social media should be. In this day and age of real-time information access, it feels like participating in conversations that are happening in real time about Pharma drugs and their benefits, side effects, etc., is more responsible than allowing them to post ads anywhere they want - with only the exact messaging THEY want. Social media gives consumers more power in saying what they want, what they will and won't stand for and I for one believe this will have significant implications on advancements in how drugs are made, sold and prescribed in our country.

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