Instagram might seem like a challenging environment for pharmaceutical companies but according to Facebook Health’s industry manager, there is ample opportunity for them to connect with patients through the app, which remains incredibly popular with younger consumers who are increasingly deleting the Facebook app.

At the Digital Pharma East conference in Philadelphia last month, Danielle Salowski told attendees:

“Now we feel that we’ve gotten to a point where we mastered Facebook, we want to talk about Instagram. This is now a place you need to pay attention to in order to reach patients at scale. [Instagram] is the intersection of amazing visual communication and the ability to share it with your friends and patients in a snap.”

Of course, Instagram presents numerous challenges for pharma marketers and there are a number of things they should take into consideration when developing Instagram campaigns.

Think visually and less formally

The highly visual nature of Instagram means that pharma marketers need to think creatively about how they can create image and video-based content that is more likely to resonate with Instagram’s younger user base.

As part of this, pharma marketers are wise to think about their tone. As Nancy Nolan, associate director of marketing communications at Merck, who appeared on stage with Facebook’s Salowski, explained, “When you think about pharma, we’re very formal in the way we speak and address patients, and it can be really standoffish. Millennials don’t like to be spoken to with that type of formality and tone.”

Monitor hashtags to identify virtual communities

Healthcare marketers should consider that they can tap into pseudo-communities that form around hashtags on Instagram. Facebook’s Salowski pointed to the hashtag, #migraine, pointing out that “there are a ton of posts just using #migraine, and [Instagram] is a place where patients come to connect, talk about their experience visually, and share with friends.”

By monitoring hashtags of interest, pharma marketers can identify opportunities to join the proverbial conversation, engaging patients and also, where appropriate, caretakers.

Consider teaming up with influencers

While influencer marketing on Instagram is most often the domain of fashion houses, beauty brands, and the like, with a little creativity, pharma marketers can also team up with popular Instagrammers to spread their messages.

Of course, choosing which messages to spread is critical. In many cases, pharma marketers are likely to find that unbranded campaigns aimed at driving awareness of conditions they offer treatments for are ideal for influencer campaigns. After all, by partnering with influencers who are in some way connected to those conditions, brands have an opportunity to foster emotional connections.

Don’t forget about healthcare professionals

While social marketing in many industries often focuses on consumers, pharma marketers shouldn’t overlook opportunities to reach healthcare professionals, including physicians, via social media.

As influencer marketing platform InNetwork noted, many healthcare professionals are active on social platforms today, where they have established themselves as trusted sources of healthcare information to both other healthcare professionals as well as consumers. As the company observed, “By partnering with a healthcare professional, you open the doors to both target audiences.”

Remember the rules

The rules that pharma marketers are required to adhere to don’t disappear simply because they might be slightly more inconvenient to comply with on social platforms.

A reminder of this fact came recently as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fired off a warning letter to pharma company Mannkind for failing to disclose the risks associated with Afrezza, its inhaled insulin drug, in content posted on its Facebook Page.

The letter was the result of a complaint made to the FDA Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) Bad Ad program, which allows third parties to report potentially problematic ads.

In its letter, the OPDP demanded that Mannkind remove non-compliant content, which the firm appears to have done. A failure to do so could have led to enforcement action, something no pharma marketer wants to have to deal with.

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