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The Best Social Media Channels for Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Marketers

Marketers in the healthcare and pharma space have been hesitant to take advantage of the contemporary and mammoth industry of social media. With over 1.4 billion people using Facebook everyday1, the potential number of eyeballs advertisers could reach simply cannot be ignored. Much of the apprehensiveness surrounding this topic arises because of the FDA. With strict rules and restrictions regarding the promotion of arguably beneficial health products, social media platforms are volatile places for brand promotion. However, the FDA has released draft guidelines for pharma advertising in social media:

  • Communications must be balanced, accurate and non-misleading
    • The closer to the creation or adoption of the content, the more likely a firm is responsible for that content.
    • There is no “one-click rule”  (to click to another page for risk & safety information). Therefore, risk information should be put directly in the post and given equal prominence to benefit information, regardless of space constraints.
    • Direct hyperlinks to risk information and/or FDA approved labeling should be provided from the message, update, ad or tweet as a means to learn more about the product.2

In addition to the FDA guidelines, moderation is extremely important in maintaining a positive profile in view of the target audience. Some consumers that have had side-effects from certain drugs have posted their reactions online. Moderating the comments made by these individuals on a daily basis can be a full-time job. However, standing by and doing nothing about negative sentiment is not really a solution, either.

In light of the current guidelines, posts on social media channels that directly reference a pharma brand are inadvisable.  Character limitations on the major social media networks would prevent blatant posting because there is probably not enough room for the safety information and black box warning. Instead, social media campaigns for pharma brands should focus on engaging consumers with content that surrounds a specific disease state. This is done through social media “influencers” or key opinion leaders with social media profiles that promote the specific disease content center to their followers. The content center can be sponsored by your brand. See ConferenceInsider for example.

Part of developing a good social media strategy, should be determining the best social media channels to use to promote a content campaign. It is better to be excellent at one or two channels than to be lousy at five or six. Therefore, the selection of your channels should be based on your resources as well as your target market.

Let’s consider the top social media websites and how they might be useful to your brand:

Facebook at 1.4 billion active users, offers the flexibility to contact audiences on a personal and group level.  It gives page administrators the ability to moderate comments made by users, giving pharma a wide reach in a relatively low-risk arena. Many pharma companies are already using Facebook pages to promote their corporate presence. Here are a few examples of some better ones:

However, we are not suggesting to create a Facebook page for a particular brand, but rather to use “influencer” Facebook profiles and pages to promote content posted to a disease topic center elsewhere on the web. Then you can use display advertising on the disease topic pages to promote a specific brand. Facebook is mainly a consumer oriented approach.

Google+ has 363 million profiles. It has the option of both personal and professional profile accounts. With the professional page, you can delete comments, if necessary. It is essential to have a Google+ account if you are promoting video content via YouTube. Google+ integrates seamlessly with YouTube so that you may post your videos on this social media channel. In this channel, you can post any approved videos and use other social media profiles to link to the approved content. If you have video, you should be on this channel. Google+ and YouTube can be used to reach both HCPs and Consumers.

LinkedIn, with 347 million registered members, does not support comment moderation.  Alternatively, companies can enhance their business profiles and post important information regarding product releases and business events. With personal and business profiles, people can post links to content on other sites, with a picture or video to enhance engagement. LinkedIn has been successful at reaching both HCPs and Consumers. Again, like Facebook, this would be used in an influencer campaign.

Twitter has 284 million profiles with 88% of Twitter users on mobile. Twitter specializes in engagement with a large audience, directly targeting users by interest using hashtags.  For instance, we use #diabeteschat, to reach both consumers and HCPs that are interested in many topics (including pharmaceuticals) that surround diabetes. Twitter reaches both HCPs and Consumers and would be part of an influencer campaign.

Pinterest has an audience of 70 million and is 80% female. This site is a categorized grouping of ideas mainly using pictures. It is useful for inspirational purposes, for instance if a patient is dealing with a difficult disease, Pinterest offers hundreds of insightful posts on the disease that can be repinned or reposted. Pinterest can also be used to post announcements about an upcoming event. The most difficult part is to make your original content exciting, insightful, inspirational, or humorous enough that will encourage “pinning” (reposting). Pinterest is a Consumer oriented approach.

Instagram has 300 million users, 60 million users within the U.S., 70% are from outside the U.S.,  approximately 53% of online U.S. adults ages 18-29 use it. Instagram is a photo sharing social network. It is similar to Twitter because you can specify audience using hashtags. Like Pinterest it is image-centric. It is a Consumer oriented approach.



1 “Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 1st quarter 2015 (in millions).” Statista. Web. 02 June 2015.

2 Belbey, Joanna. “FDA Readies Social Media Rules For Big Pharma.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 8 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2015.

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