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Social Media’s Influence in Messaging Mix


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-03-01-2020
Volume 40
Issue 3

A look at the ongoing barriers and opportunities in building connections between HCPs, patients, and pharma through social media.

Almost 4.5 billion people across the globe were active internet users as of January, according to Statista, a German online portal for statistics. That equals around 59% of the world’s population. Physicians and healthcare professionals (HCPs), having adapted their approaches to social media, are wielding them as powerful tools in interacting with the pharma industry. Whether it be crowdsourcing other professional opinions for a case or connecting with patients through real testimonials, the use of social media allows for messages to have the opportunity to be seen on a global stage.

“No matter the channel, building connections through authentic patient stories remains the single-most effective trigger for healthy behaviors and improved outcomes,” says Brenda Snow, founder and CEO of Snow Companies, a patient engagement agency. “We’re making sure our biopharma clients engage on social in a meaningful and regulatory-compliant way.” According to her company’s digital tracker, of more than 125 pharmaceutical brands on Facebook, 54% feature real patients in some way. Biopharma marketers hope to evoke emotion through patient stories that include meaningful and useful information to the viewer or reader that ultimately ends up as an endorsement for their product.

But these types of patient engagements face challenges in credibility and functionality. “Taking the plunge into social media alone won’t make your brand stand out,” says Phil Storer, senior vice president for digital at Snow Companies. HCPs, experts point out, want the patient to feel connected to the subject of the story and draw parallels to their own conditions. A recent Nielsen study found that digital influencers are the most trusted form of advertising. There is a growing need for influencer programs that routinely abide by regulatory and medical 

guidelines. However, patient testimonials can partly fulfill that role in the online pharma space.

Another channel drawing interest form HCPs when it comes to social media is the expanded possibilities for outsourcing. Designated platforms and applications, such as Figure 1, for example, which has been called the “Instagram for doctors,” enable physicians to display their cases in front of colleagues around the world in seconds, whereas, traditionally, they could only access those peers readily available to them. “We’re a global platform, with 2.8 million HCPs registered,” says Joanna Moshman, director of business development for Figure 1, based in Toronto, Ontario. “We have thousands of physicians, but our network also includes the entire spectrum of healthcare: nurses, medical students, physician assistants, and about 33% of our community is physician-track.”

Figure 1 has worked with 25 pharma clients of varying size over the past few years, with close to 100,000 cases uploaded by HCPs so far. Features within the application allow for patients to feel secure with their physicians using their cases for reference, with consent forms and data-blocking faculties.

AI-powered chatbot technologies present more of a challenge when it comes to online engagement between patients, HCPs, and pharma. Though these processing systems can generate and mimic a human response and create a more intimate conversation for the user, they aren’t necessarily intuitive. By typing something into a chat window on a website, the attitude or emotional state of whom a user is speaking to can be lost, experts say. That can impact the patient engagement and emotional connection that is trying to be created through other social media approaches. Users can also find themselves typing the same question over and over, trying to solicit a response that their predictive analytics does not recognize. Though there is industry excitement surrounding AI and chatbot technologies, there remain several complex details to iron out.


Miranda Schmalfuhs is Pharm Exec’s Assistant Editor. She can be reached at mschmalfuhs@mmhgroup.com

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