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Pharma’s Prescription for Social ROI


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-09-01-2015
Volume 35
Issue 9

Measurement is a given in the pharmaceutical industry: dosage charts, chemistry formulas, budgets for testing, and budgets to go to market. When it comes to marketing, particularly through social media channels, measurement of return on investment (ROI) poses its own set of challenges. 

Measurement is a given in the pharmaceutical industry: dosage charts, chemistry formulas, budgets for testing, and budgets to go to market. When it comes to marketing, particularly through social media channels, measurement of return on investment (ROI) poses its own set of challenges.

This doesn’t mean ROI can’t be measured. In an industry that prides itself on preciseness, taking a deep dive into these five types of metrics, measurements, and insights can help drive and prove the value of your social media programs, illustrating the meaningful business impact. This, in turn, can inform strategy and even help with compliance, particularly with the insight gleaned from patients.

Before you can decide on the right method to measure, it is critical to define the objectives for your social media efforts. Are you seeking brand recognition for a new product? Are you looking to increase use of a product in a specific region or target demographic? Are you looking to educate an audience on a disease state critical to the sales of your product? Each of these objectives, done right, would have significantly different measures.

1. Actual social media statistics

There is no shortage of data in social media. Each platform offers at least some metrics, while third-party tools offer analytics and suggest they can aid you in finding insights. The challenge is to find the measures that fit your company’s objectives. Don’t fall into the common trap of measuring what is easy. Measure what matters.

Remember when the number of fans you had on Facebook was the most important measure a brand had? The good news is that we have progressed a lot in our thinking from that time. Today, we look at various measures based on each page and business objective. 

One LiveWorld client was working on a program to increase brand recognition of a new product brand. They could have taken several approaches in social media to raise awareness of this brand. Although a few of the options are limited on the pharma side, we eventually selected a two-pronged approach. The first was to create a disease state community to educate the audience (an under-treated population) and create a community support space for the disease. The second part of the plan was to use Facebook ads (not tied to the page) to put the brand name in front of the audience. In this example, we measured the engagement and consumption of the educational content for the first part to gauge success, then measured two different sets of data for the ads component. The first measure revealed ad success. We used both the Facebook Ads tools and link tracking to find the amount of traffic we were able to move to brand pages. The second part of the measure was the overall volume of conversation happening around the brand across social channels, providing a broader measure of brand recognition. 

Another challenge with standard metrics is ensuring they are an accurate measure of what is happening in social channels. An all-too-common error in measurement is the assumption that a change in the data in a positive direction is good for the program. In some instances, 

this is absolutely wrong. For example, engagement gone wrong for pharmaceuticals can mean a single post gathers thousands of responses. That may sound positive, but when you dive deeper, you find that half of the responses are negative or off-topic. These comments could even include adverse events (AEs), off label comments, or posts promoting competitor products. In the case of AEs, that engagement is especially important for compliance -but not necessarily feedback that will drive sales if that is your objective.

2. Marketing statistics 

The pharmaceuticals industry is very familiar with using advertising to drive product awareness; every commercial and magazine ad urges potential customers to discuss new treatments with their doctors. For pharmaceuticals, reach is a key performance indicator (KPI) that can be measured, and it can be paired with something like website traffic or physician lead generation to prove its worth.



When you bring reach to your marketing staff to translate it, look at it from a marketing equivalency standpoint. Basically, marketing equivalency measures the cost to get that same kind of reach obtained with social media compared to other forms: print, television spots, radio, or digital advertising. Not only is this a valuable metric, but it’s one that can be kept in the marketing department, which has control over its budget and knows how much is being spent on its other channels. 

We had the opportunity to do a marketing equivalency review with a client recently. We found that the social channels performed comparably with TV and print in cost per reach and cost per engagement; however, we found that social media was better able to target the specific audience of interest. When we reviewed social channels as they compare to digital banners, we found that the cost per reach was more expensive for social media-but the cost per engagement was less. This was additional proof that targeting in social media is a critical element for consideration. Another key finding indicated engagement in social media was far deeper than the usual clicks gathered via banner ad engagement. For another client, our social media reach engagement program showed a reach level that would have cost ten times to accomplish through advertising.

3. Pure insight

Social media is where pharmaceutical brands can find candid conversations and real-time connections with customers and caregivers. They share with each other, not just the brand, and, as a result, they also are generating qualitative and quantitative data that can’t be created in a focus group’s manufactured environment. It’s candid and real, and it can be used in so many different facets of the business, from compliance to R&D, that the value cannot be overstated.

However, this social data needs more than just sentiment analysis done with a machine; human review is required to understand language nuances such as sarcasm and hyperbole. For example, a machine wouldn’t catch a patient comment like, “This makes me see pink elephants” and know to further investigate. The number of posts doesn’t necessarily indicate something important; it’s the quality of posts where you’ll spot things like off-label uses, adverse reactions, and opportunities that could translate into research for new drugs.

Don’t just listen for insights after you launch a product; consider gathering insights as a part of your entire product lifecycle. For example, a disease state community can be a great source of insights on the side effects of competitive products. A closed community can be the perfect place to test several variations of marketing language. 

4. Relationship building

While there are clearly some limitations to what we can communicate to physicians and consumers on social media, there are instances where it is the perfect tool. A strong example was from AstraZeneca on Facebook and via a TweetChat. The TweetChat engaged hundreds of people, including patients, healthcare professionals, and patient advocacy groups, and it raised awareness of the company’s prescription assistance program as well as the brand itself.

Disease state communities are another way to build relationships both for the brand as well as among the patients and caregivers in the disease community. 

5. Tracking adverse events

Across the pharma industry, we are all focused on the quality of our products and prioritize gathering feedback. Opening social channels provides an additional source for AEs and for customers’ queries. At LiveWorld, we’ve studied our AE work across multiple pharma brands and found the actual incidence of AEs through social is fairly low. Nevertheless, every AE must be noted and managed properly with audit access to conversation archives if and when the FDA asks for them.

This process is going to come into broader focus when Facebook finishes its implementation of the Messenger product for customer service. Is your team ready for AE reporting? 

Peter Friedman is Chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, and author of The CMO’s Social Media Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Leading Marketing teams in the Social media World


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