It wasn’t long ago that pharma brands tended to avoid social media.

The strict regulation of the industry’s advertising communication still acts as a motivator for the industry to be cautious with social content, yet increasing numbers of brands are taking to social media anyway.

What’s changed?

The opportunity for engagement

Pharma, like the finance sector, has realised that there’s opportunity in engaging in dialogue with customers on social media.

Social content doesn’t have to be about the business and its products, in fact these can be some of the least engaging subjects to post about.

The most successful pharma brands on social are the ones that focus on sharing content around the values of the company and its customers. They know what’s important to their followers and they post content that connects.

There’s no guarantee that people won’t post content that breaches regulations, but this issue can be mitigated by ensuring that a team of people are working behind the scenes to moderate and manage the page – making sure it remains compliant. 

Companies have realised that having an active social media presence helps them to reach more people, raise brand awareness and discover what people really want from them.

Vitabiotics, which makes vitamin supplements like Wellwoman and Wellman, uses social media to raise awareness about health issues and promote the brand.

Meanwhile the @GSK twitter account reflects the company’s focus on leadership and research.

It also uses quotes, videos and images to engage its followers.

Johnson & Johnson uses its social media channels to share the company’s values – such as its focus on family – with its followers.

Social isn’t going away

The industry has realised that even if it ignores social media, its customers won’t.

Other industries have led the way on social media, perhaps resulting in consumers developing expectations around social media responsiveness. 

People know that if they have a bad experience with a brand they need only @mention them on Twitter and, often, someone from the company will get in touch to resolve the issue.

Why shouldn’t they expect this from pharma brands?

Ignore the conversation on social media and brands not only risk their reputation, but they lose the opportunity to create a community around the brand.

Sure, people may not build their identities around their chosen brand of painkiller in the same way that they do with their choice of gaming console or favourite clothes brand, but a friendly, engaging social media presence can go a long way to keeping the brand at the forefront of people’s minds.

When you consider that, according to Nielsen, 83% of people value the recommendations of friends and family over other forms of advertising, establishing a strong online community of advocates seems like something that most brands should be focusing their marketing efforts on.

No matter what industry they are in.

Dealing with potential crises

Crises often break on social media. Brands that are engaged in social media have an opportunity to spot the signs of a brewing crisis, and solve the problem before it becomes a major issue.

Ignore it, or fail to spot the complaints at all, and the brand can find itself playing catch-up on its own crisis.

People reporting adverse reactions, for example, may not call a helpline or visit their GP in the first instance, but may take to Twitter asking “has anyone else had this kind of rash when taking @antibiotic?”

Pharma brands have realised that they can use social media without breaching guidelines, and that they need to be there because that’s where people are.

It’s where discussions about the brand happen every day and they need to be listening to them even if they are unable to respond directly with specifics due to regulations.

As increasing numbers of social networks and apps become popular, pharma companies and their brands will need to think of increasingly creative ways to use them to engage and inform their followers.

For more on this topic, see:

Tamara Littleton

Published 11 July, 2016 by Tamara Littleton

Tamara is CEO and founder of social media agency The Social Element and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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