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The adoption and growth of social media for healthcare providers (HCPs) will continue apace in 2022. Social behaviors initially prompted by COVID-19 have become standard operating procedures. Embracing nuances and developing new approaches will distinguish effective competitors from also-rans. For pharma marketers, discerning effectiveness of social media marketing and convincing or finessing conservative medical-legal reviewers will continue to be primary challenges.
Looking ahead, consider these 12 emerging factors:
Investigate Influencers. Self-appointed digital opinion leaders are drawing significant numbers of HCPs into surprisingly detailed scientific and clinical interactive conversations on both public and private social media platforms. Initiated in the scramble to treat COVID-19, the availability of peer-to-peer engagement continues to intrigue and attract generalists and specialists. Pharma marketers are watching this phenomenon anxiously from the sidelines, fearful about the lack of pre-approval and content control, knowing that an organization with a hearty risk appetite will probably claim the high ground, engage influencers in potent promotional activities, and score a competitive advantage.
Manage the Metaverse. Pharma marketing has been on the cusp of embracing simulations, gamification and virtual (VR) or artificial reality (AR) for several years. The technology enables a robust creative pallet for illustrating how medications work or how procedures are done. HCP digital natives expect brands to use these familiar approaches to interact, educate and engage them by telling compelling disease awareness or brand specific stories.
Watch Walled Gardens. The major private peer-to-peer gated HCP communities all experienced significant membership and usage spikes as a result of the pandemic. Platforms like Sermo, Doximity, Skipta, Medscape, and G-Med added features and functions, often in parallel with each other. Look for continued efforts to increase traffic, expand frequency of sessions, build longer sessions, expand content, and stimulate conversation and interaction within specialty newsfeeds.
Optimize On-Demand. The COVID-19 driven default to digital communication channels prompted HCPs’ expectation of on-demand messaging. They expect to have pre-recorded or digitized content available when and where they are ready to access it. Videos, infographics, interactive presentations, clinical data sets and games will be critical elements of every brand’s non-personal promotion (NPP) arsenal.
Activate Allied Professionals. Nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, and other professionals are critical members of the care team, often spending the most time with patients and delivering an array of treatments and services. Prominent in social media, they are chronically underserved by pharma marketers who tend to focus time and attention on physicians. Savvy marketers will embrace these populations, carve out budget to reach and persuade them, and dedicate resources to educate and engage them.
Call an Audible. Audio promotion, prompted by the explosion of podcasts and the instant popularity of Clubhouse, will find a place in pharma NPP. Podcasts by HCPs and hospitals increased 40% in 2021 over 2020, according to RadioMD. Audio tracks featuring key opinion leaders (KOLs) and panel discussions will be recorded and posted on websites, Spotify, and social media pages. Voice tracks will animate ads on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn while marketers try to wrestle with the med-legal challenges of live audio. Also consider changing SEO tactics to align with the steady growth of live audio search.
Gauge Groups. The pandemic prompted a spate of HCP group formation on virtually every platform. From journal clubs to ad hoc diagnostics, HCPs rallied to connect and share with peers. Some groups are open, others are cautiously private. Medical science liaisons (MSLs) should transparently join relevant groups to understand and gauge the tone and direction of the conversations and to insert clinical or scientific information where and when appropriate.
Mobilize MSLs. The rising demand for peer-to-peer conversation and consultation opens new avenues and new access for medical science liaison staff to interact with HCPs. The roles of reps versus MSLs as well as the practical definition of promotion is changing. Sharing data, real world evidence, and common experiences, these specialists must play a greater role in pharma marketing to build confidence and credibility among a skeptical population of practicing HCPs.
Promote Patient Programs. The more complex the disease; the more complex the patient paperwork and adherence challenges. Beyond diagnosis and treatment, patients turn to their HCPs for educational materials, pre-authorization, co-pay cards, samples, dosing schedules, and dedicated customer service resources. Pharma marketers are expanding these toolsets and HCPs are eager to obtain and distribute them. 75% of physicians, in a HealthLink Dimensions survey, said they use patient education materials when provided to them. Look for expansion in the number of services offered and the number of pharma brands offering patient support.
Emphasize Engagement. Changing or cementing on-going relationships between pharma and HCPs, HCPs and patients, or hospitals and patients or caregivers is on everyone’s 2022 agenda. Replacing incidental or transactional contacts with sustained interactions will require a different content and contact strategy delivered through a mix of channels. Look for her and ePrescribing vendors to tout their advanced analytics capabilities to predict and transmit the right message to the right patient or HCP at the right moment for optimal impact. Gaining access to the right data and finessing privacy protocols will make or break these claims.
Exchange Data. Google, Apple, and Epic (Fitbit, Apple Watch, MyChart, respectively) are leading the way in building mobile monitoring technologies that collect and traffic real-time health data. The long-term goal is to improve care, react to individual metabolic changes, drive adherence, educate patients, centralize, and synchronize medical records, and predict or anticipate health incidents or needed treatments or procedures. There is a robust pipeline of tools and wearables in development though real-world uptake and substantial diagnostic or treatment benefits have yet to be documented. Imagine the behavior and workflow changes necessary for HCPs when they are confronted with real-time data streams from multiple patients who expect quick, expert reading and reactions. The practical value of these technologies will be scrutinized and debated in the new year.
Redefine Reps: Declining rep access to HCPs and institutions, exacerbated by the pandemic, will force an essential rethinking of pharma’s oldest and best promotional device. There is a clear difference in expectations for the role of reps. HCPs think reps should traffic samples, patient education materials, and pizza. Pharma marketers think reps should prompt brief clinical or scientific conversations and traffic datasets, trial results, or journal articles. Getting both parties on the same page and reestablishing live in-person or live digital encounters is a topic sure to percolate throughout 2022.
Recovering and learning from the pandemic will further set the agenda for pharma marketing in 2022. Savvy marketers will be addressing these dozen issues which will certainly transform the playing field.
Danny Flamberg is the VP Strategy of LiveWorld