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The Benefits of Social Media in Pharma

The pharmaceutical industry is known for being a slow adopter of innovation, often letting other industries dive head first into new advertising and marketing tactics, while waiting to see if they sink or swim. Of course, the FDA does not help the pharma industry’s case, as they tend to publish their rules and regulations far after innovation has arrived on scene.

Take social media. While some pharma companies are still struggling with how to use social media and comply with FDA guidelines at the same time, others are growing more comfortable and confident, as they successfully build up their social portfolio. We are seeing that the average number of pharmaceutical company tweets have increased by 530% since 2013, and the top industry leaders have upped their Twitter following by 300%, meaning that the industry is slowly beginning to understand the importance of social for their individual brands.

Social media is an important venue for pharma companies of all scale and sizes. It is a place for brands to educate, market the drug, and communicate with their target audience.

Cue Gilead Sciences and their Healthysexual Truvada campaign. Truvada is the only therapy approved by the FDA to prevent HIV. In an attempt to reach the drug’s small and niche audience, Gilead has turned to social media specifically Snapchat, YouTube, various gay dating apps, and most recently Tumblr, to get the job done. Tumblr, having a limited reach compared to other social channels, reaches a younger audience, which is what Gilead is after. Truvada’s target of young black and Latino men, transgender women, and couples at risk of HIV, are on Tumblr making it a smart platform for Truvada. The Healthysexual campaign provided public health messages to its desired audience via a social platform the audience already lives and breathes. Knowing who your audience is and where to find them is key to any campaign and embracing social media is what made Truvada so successful. While more conservative pharma companies would never think of Tumblr as an option, Gilead knew where the Truvada patient community lay, which pushed aside any fear of potential risks.

Similarly, Novartis has embraced social media via their YouTube channel. Using disease-specific videos as a way to educate consumers and getting them to better understand their condition, Novartis has empowered patients to speak with their physicians about their treatment options. In addition, Novartis conducts “Twitterviews,” (interviews on Twitter), to prompt conversations online with various health organizations, while also creating hashtags like #MYDCchat (Make Your Dialogue Count) encouraging breast cancer patients to talk to their doctors, and #Time2DoMore supporting Type 2 diabetes patients. Using social platforms like Twitter allows for quick, two-way communication, building trust within online communities, and establishing the brand as a leader in the space.

So why do pharma companies still struggle to adopt social as an integral part of their marketing strategies? Perhaps it has to do with the dreary med-legal process or the lack of control, which results in FDA warning letters, fines, or worse, reputational damage. Regardless, Social, like other innovations of the past, will make its way around the pharmaceutical circle in time.