Four Questions Life Science Marketers Should Consider In Building Effective and Regulatory Compliant Social Media Programs

Over the past three years, Life Science marketers have reached a turning point in using consumer social media. They are using consumer social to boost treatment relevance, and drive growth. Unlike the limited use of physician social communities, consumer social programs are spreading throughout the industry and growth in breadth and depth:

  • Eight of the largest pharma companies are partnering with Patients Like Me, to gain insights by listening to patient communities related to specific health conditions.
  • ViiV is featuring experienced antiretroviral patients on Couch Talk, a social program with a goal of to cutting the five-year gap between diagnosis and treatment of HIV.
  • Sanofi, Bayer, and Novartis have all launched social initiatives, which are designed to encourage better understanding and treatment of diabetes.
  • Tweet chats, pioneered by Boehringer Ingelheim in 2013, are being held by four Life Science leaders to discuss a range of issues from heart failure to breast cancer.

Now that engagement with consumers via social media has become more acceptable in the Life Sciences industry, marketers must start addressing a few key questions to ensure they build successful and regulatory compliant social media programs.

  1. How to build organizational support for consumer social?

A great deal of reluctance to using social, usually based on overly cautious perceptions of regulatory barriers and risk, still remains in Life Science companies, mostly outside of marketing. Building momentum for consumer social within the enterprise can be as important as building momentum in the market and among patients. The key to success will be to carefully manage the sequence of investment in consumer social and gather metrics of key performance indicators to make the case for its effectiveness. Participation and sentiment metrics are readily available. The real work comes in linking these metrics to the objectives of each investment to demonstrate material impact and to adjust programs in search of improving impact.

  1. Which area of focus can we impact with this social media initiative?

At this point in the development of consumer social interaction, we can observe at least six potential areas of focus:

  1. What role should your brands play in the conversation on social media?

Life Science marketers must determine what role to play for each area of focus.

  • If your goal is to increase use of a product, like an insulin monitor, you could host a community to discuss issues related to product use.
  • If you’re seeking consumer research, play a listener role in communities such as “Patients Like Me.”
  • If you’d like to encourage untreated sufferers to seek more information, become an active participant in larger social arenas, like Twitter.

The other question is which brand to use: the product brand, the corporate brand, or another brand created specifically to engage socially to undertake these different roles. This architecture question is becoming increasingly important as companies put in place adherence programs which utilize common platforms or services related to a condition that bridge across multiple products or therapies.

  1. How do I manage this program effectively and maintain regulatory compliance?

Any social program requires careful, consistent, and frequent monitoring and curation to succeed. The regulatory demands in the Life Sciences make program management particularly important. The management system must proactively anticipate how to handle adverse events, protect patient confidentiality and avoid prohibited forms of promotion. Most important, management systems must manage the tone of the social conversation, so the views of a few do not dominate or take over the conversation and lead to distortion. In certain treatments, such as immunization, this last consideration may be so important that it drives the selection of where to focus and what role the brand should play in the dialogue.

The key to success is a thoughtful and compliant social media program that aligns with the overarching goal to forge strong bonds through improved patient experiences. One, that recognizes that consumer social can be an effective tool in driving growth as long as it is supported, focused, has clear brand roles and is managed effectively. The potential to do more with social is just starting to be recognized in the Life Sciences.  In the next few years we can expect to see more innovation and expansion in this area of marketing.