“What’s your favorite pharmaceutical company on Snapchat?” said no one ever.

It’s only a matter of time before a pharmaceutical company breaks through with audiences through an award-winning Instagram story or an ephemeral Snap.

Despite being makers, innovators and even at times magicians (e.g. enabling patients to use the immune system – the “Force” within – in order to conquer an ailment or illness), beyond a few exceptions, pharmaceutical companies have largely been laggards when it comes to adopting social and digital communications. Certainly, there’s a robust pipeline of reasons for why pharmaceutical companies have been slow to evolve: from hurdles in digital transformation (e.g. cultural issues, archaic IT systems, limited digital skills, or a lack of clear leadership vision) to the perceived risks associated with breaking from traditional tactics in favor of digital-first approaches. That said, a survey from earlier this year found that 18 percent of healthcare companies planned on increasing their traditional consumer advertising spend, whereas 50% reported planning to increase their digital spend.

What does it take for a pharmaceutical company to expand its digital ecosystem and engage audiences and influencers more effectively online?

The secret to amazing content begins with listening.
The same survey of healthcare marketing and communications professionals found that only 33 percent were using research, data and analytics to inform their consumer marketing tactics. To no surprise, 54 percent planned on increasing its use and application. Here at Ketchum, research and analytics is a common thread throughout our planning, strategy, execution, and optimization processes. Research, data and analytics that are often derived from listening are critical components that inform how to increase social and digital activities. Collaborating with clients to fine tune their social listening is essential in order to tease out actionable insights that support greater agility, drive new initiatives and inform marketing and communications strategies. In the pharmaceutical industry, here are a few of the queries where social listening can be invaluable:

  • What are audiences saying about your company or brands?
  • Who are the influencers within your key therapeutic areas and what are they talking about?
  • What are your competitors doing and where is the white space opportunity?
  • Are there wider health and wellness or pop culture trends that your brand can authentically contribute to?
  • Is your content meeting its goals and objectives, driving engagement, or reaching the right audience?
  • Does your content’s performance inform your content creation and publishing on a regular basis?

Don’t be everywhere. Be where it matters.
A pharmaceutical company’s UK commercial team wants to launch a corporate oncology Facebook page. Sound familiar? I often work with clients to address the challenges this can create by introducing governance, guidelines, processes, and procedures that empower channel expansion and enable experimentation. As part of any expansion effort, it is crucial to examine the local team’s goals and objectives, leverage social listening insights, adapt global content strategies locally, map audience priorities and channel preferences, develop personas, or perform journey mapping. During the process we also often help to:

  • Navigate regulatory concerns, such as those related to branded/product content appearing adjacent to disease awareness and education content in user feeds.
  • Enable commercial teams to balance publishing better content with promotional content and advertisements.
  • Ensure approved content reaches its intended audience (e.g. global versus local).

Content – even in healthcare – must be provocative.
Audiences are inundated by health and wellness content all the time. Pharmaceutical companies can stand out from the sea of sameness by maintaining standards for what quality content looks like, as well as by enabling their internal stakeholders to easily identify, process and share the stories that matter most. Additionally, being provocative can include getting greater value from the stories that have performed well. This might be accomplished through telling patients via new mediums (e.g. creating a GIF series from an infographic), being on additional channels, or even by amplifying them further with paid promotion.

Pharmaceutical companies would be well advised to spend more focused attention and resources on their social and digital presences, which will inevitably bear fruit both near term and long term.

About Mark Durney

Mark is the Vice President of Digital and Content Strategy at Ketchum. He leads the digital and content strategies across Ketchum’s healthcare clients. He is an accomplished strategist with ten years’ experience in global and domestic branding, marketing, and communications with a focus on traditional advertising, digital and content strategy, and public relations. Before moving to Ketchum, Mark was at Havas Health, where he led a variety of social, digital, and content programs for health and wellness clients. Prior to Havas Health he managed the digital and social media marketing and communications team for Capgemini – a global consulting, outsourcing, and IT company – as well as served as a director for a non-profit.

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