Pharma use of social media is maturing as companies get more savvy about how they use social channels.

For its fourth-annual Social Check-up, Ogilvy Healthworld partnered with social data firm Pulsar and looked at the social activity of 20 leading pharma companies in the 11 months between January and December 2017.

Its conclusion: pharma use of social media has matured and companies are getting more and more mileage out of their efforts.

Specifically, except for YouTube, pharma companies have decreased the frequency at which they post content to social channels. Posts to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were down 3%, 16% and 41%, respectively, during the observation period.

But decreasing how much they posted didn't stop pharma companies from growing their audiences on these platforms. On average, audiences increased 15% on Twitter, 47% on Facebook, 50% on YouTube and 67% on Instagram.

The bad news: half of the 20 companies tracked saw decreases in engagement, with some, including Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Amgen and Teva, seeing significant double-digit drops of between 33% and 77%.

But four of Ogilvy Healthworld's five top-ranked pharma companies increased engagement. The top-ranked firm, Novo Nordisk, grew its engagement by 13%, while Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Merck/MSD grew theirs by an even more impressive 111%, 77% and 122%.

Quality over quantity

How did these top performers do it? Not surprisingly, Ogilvy Healthworld attributed their success to the posting of high-value content possibly aided by paid promotion of that content "at the right time to the right audience." Indeed, the pharma companies with the highest engagement scores did not post the most frequently.

Trends and strategies

When it comes to producing high-value content and encouraging engagement, Ogilvy Healthworld offered a number of observations.

Being human helps

Pointing to Novo Nordisk's all diabetes pro cycling team, Ogilvy stated "Highlighting the human side of the business was the most regular theme across 2017's high-performing posts, such as spotlighting employees and internal initiatives."

This makes sense. Given that the pharma industry has been widely panned in recent years, it's smart for companies to remind the public that their employees are real people who are working to help treat and cure illness.

Get active

Unbranded advertising has been a big trend for pharma marketers and one of the ways that pharma marketers can get closer to consumers without advertising to them is by getting involved in causes around health conditions. It points to World Aids Day, World Cancer Day and Movember as examples of initiatives that offer opportunities for pharma company participation.

But activism doesn't have to be limited to the health realm, Ogilvy points out. It says other initiatives, such as Earth Day and Global Day of Service, can also be opportunities to engage. 

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Partner with celebrities

While it's not as easy for pharma companies to team up with celebrity influencers as it is for, say, shoe companies, celebrity partnerships do hold promise.

In 2016, Novartis partnered with actress/singer Queen Latifah as part of a Rise Above Heart Failure initiative designed to call attention to heart failure, a condition her mother suffers from. With that blueprint, other pharma companies have formed relationships with celebrities. For example, last year, Novo Nordisk and Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram worked together to promote #ChangingDiabetes.

Embrace new techniques and technology to create compelling content

Ogilvy observed that on Instagram, aerial drone content posted by Bayer and Eli Lilly of their headquarters was a hit, reminding pharma companies that new techniques and technology can help create content that will resonate with consumers.

Be prepared to pay to play

Noting that organic reach has declined significantly and rapidly, Ogilvy reminds pharma companies that paid social, employed strategically, is increasingly required to ensure that content cuts through the clutter.

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Patricio Robles

Published 6 April, 2018 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

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FRANCIS MELLA, MANAGER at FRANCIS MELLA

I'm not sure working on the social side would be all that much fun for big farma. The public certainly has a love hate relationship with these corporate giants.

15 days ago

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