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The Top 7 Pharma Social Media Best Practices of 2017

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Your pharma social media heroes (#psmh) Brad and Spitz recently shared top line insights from this year’s “Best Practices” landscape analysis at the DHC Spring Summit. Review them here, and download all the data for continued pharma social success…

The Digital Health Coalition Spring Summit last week in Jersey City was themed “The Ins and Outs of Digital Strategy,” and featured a broad range of thought leaders sharing how today’s digital centricity impacts our approach to brand strategy, data-driven marketing, and strategic innovation. Segued between Melissa Mackey’s compelling presentation on applying cross-industry ideation to pharma and the all-star panel discussion on brand safety, we teased the audience with the latest results from our annual social media landscape analysis.

The DHC and Klick Health have partnered for the past four years to offer our increasingly anticipated “Pharma Social Media Best Practices” deck, replete with a comprehensive survey of the social ecosystem, summation of key insights, and prescriptive recommendations to optimize engagement while keeping healthcare brands compliant and safe. For the Spring Summit, we condensed megabytes of this year’s data into a “Top 7” Buzzfeedesque list of best practices perfect for a presentation—and a blog post teaser before we release the whole deck.


Welcome to “The Plateau of Productivity”

What a long, strange trip it’s been in pharma social media! Many of us remember and some even participated in the FDA Public Hearings on using the Internet and social media tools back in November of 2009, triggered by these weird and unwieldy new social platforms that were already driving marketers bonkers with their unprecedented levels of engagement. But we had good company, Larry Page and Sergei Brin also freaking out, especially when by the middle of 2010 users were spending more time on Facebook than all Google sites:



Although monetization remained elusive, these social media upstarts blew the fuse on metrics dashboards, as exponentially increasing numbers of users the world over spent more and more time on these platforms. What many then dismissed as a “social fad” rapidly morphed into an inexorable channel-disrupting and society-transforming communications paradigm shift—now more than a fifth of all digital time spent on peer-to-peer networks, becoming the go-to source for most info, including news and even health advice and support.



Hungry for a share, healthcare marketers rushed to stake their claim, the trajectory of pharma social media closely mapping to the highly descriptive and surprisingly accurate “Gartner Hype Cycle” of emerging technology. With time running along the x-axis and expectations the y-, ideas from gamification to virtual realty to 3D printing follow the curve from initial tech trigger up into the stratosphere of inflated expectations, only to plummet headlong into the trough of disillusionment, most failing or caught within indefinite stasis…



With manic fits and starts, between AEs and PR assaults, from branded to unbranded approaches, pharma marketers created Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and YouTube channels. Comment functionality was opened then closed again, social campaigns were launched and pulled, Warning Letters issued and addressed, while roundabout blogs and endless POVs packaged and repackaged the pharma social revolution to the point disillusionment was as inevitable as failure became unsurprising and even welcomed.

Over the past four years of our “Best Practices” landscape analyses, however, we’ve observed a steady crescendo of success and safety. Confidence has been building in parallel with the maturation of Facebook and other top platforms; audiences have made social media an integral part of their digital experience, and the networks have reciprocated with improved functionality and ease. The positive feedback between user and user experience has increased the appeal of social media to brands, marketers, and audiences alike.

Our analysis from 2016 to 2017 suggests a milestone year for pharma social media, the emerging tech and experience at long last making it up the slough of enlightenment to the plateau of productivity. The tipping point has been reached, we think, largely thanks to the sheer critical mass of the channel, combined with innovative technologies that for the first time help brands accurately and effectively measure ROI. Along the way a few key best practices have evolved to also help the cause, which we summarize here:


Best Practice #1: “Boldly Go Where Others Have Gone Before”

Everyone knows Charles Lindbergh and Neil Armstrong, while Clarence Chamberlain and Edwin Aldrin are less lucky. That’s because being first is sexy and memorable—but also risky, cue Captain James Cook and Amelia Earhart. The good news for pharma brands is despite the initial uncertainty and many challenges, the social ship has already sailed—Check out the lastest stats revealing enthusiastic pharma participation in the top 3 networks, suggesting that if you still refuse to play, you can count on your competitors already doing so:



Key takeaway: The path has already been paved by brands across most disease states, patients and caregivers are eager to engage, and proven systems have been created to keep your brands communicative and compliant.


Best Practice #2: “Try Facebook First”

Social networks—akin to portals, search engines, and essentially any product or service— observe the Law of Duality: Sooner or later the category becomes a two horse race, Coke or Pepsi. Despite a rugged IPO and challenges adapting to mobile, Facebook has dominated the channel with a vengeance, stats consistently off the charts and growing, no end in site [sic]. With nearly a third of the human population of planet Earth logging in monthly (and more than 1.28 billion daily), Facebook blows away the competition for every demographic:

Key takeaway: Emerging social platforms including Snapchat and Instagram are gaining popularity, but when considering a social channel for your brand, Facebook remains the obvious, easiest, and most viable choice.


Best Practice #3: “Know Thy Ad Formats”

Each social network handles paid ads differently, have greatly varied formats, and vary tremendously in available real estate for text, images, and multimedia. Whether your social campaign is branded or unbranded, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or others, a deep and broad familiarity with the numerous available formats is a prerequisite for safety and success. We’ve analyzed over 500 pharma ads across these channels, and provide a comprehensive and up-to-date summary of all your paid social media ad options:



Key takeaway: Build it and they won’t come—so know your paid ad formats and functionalities. Effective targeting is also vital, making sure you get the right kind of ad in front of the right audience type in the right way.


Best Practice #4: “Fall in Love with Regulatory”

Medical, legal, and regulatory teams have a favorite word for pharma social media marketers: “No!” That comes as no surprise, considering the inherent challenges of user generated content, continuously changing platforms, and ambiguous guidance. Reducing any surprises and gaining trust by partnering with your teams early and often is therefore a must. A slew of proven best practices including 3-month submission cycles, flexible moderation approaches, and special processes for edge cases and automation also work.


Key takeaway: Adopting a systematized approach to content, moderation, and metrics not only optimizes your processes, but helps assure regulatory that you are covering all the bases to protect and provide value for the brand.


Best Practice #5: “Alexa! Optimize My Social Processes!”

As we’ve seen, health tech is listening and talking back, automation fueled by machine learning and artificial intelligence. By applying some of that same tech to social media community management, an otherwise unwieldy and even impossible project becomes feasible and even practical. Hundreds and even thousands of responses can be rapidly and accurately processes with the help of automation, which enables multi-layer workflow and protection, and lets your social teams shift their energies to more worthwhile, human tasks.


Key takeaway: Resourcing is a significant obstacle in social media, a bandwidth problem best suitable for tackling by bots. From keyword filtering to conditional responses, an artificially intelligent member on your team can bring real smarts to your campaign management.


Best Practice #6: “Measure ROI #4realz”

Substantiating value has been a significant impediment to pharma social—thousands might “like” your page, but so what? And simply because they’re talking about the disease state or your brand doesn’t mean they’ll choose yours as their treatment option—and even if they did, how would you know? Thanks to innovative tech and evolving social functionality, those days of flying blind in social are finally over. The trajectory of targeting to program optimization to ROI analysis is slowly becoming the norm, and you should expect nothing less:


Key takeaway: A strategic approach to social now “connects the dots” between your highly targeted audience and their omnichannel behaviors along the way to choosing and staying on your brand as the best treatment option.


Best Practice #7: Embrace Our Pharma Social Future

Another revelatory insight from our 2016 to 2017 analysis of the space suggests the Gartnerian plateau of productivity will soon evolve into what we’re calling the “Undercurrent of Ubiquity”—an interpersonal reality where peer-to-peer communication becomes central to the digital experience. As the Internet of Everything crosses the boundary between analog and digital worlds, people become central to the devices, data, and processes that will seamlessly tie together home, work, and all places in between, especially for healthcare:


Key takeaway: The future is now! Klick Health and the DHC wll be announcing the release of our complete “Pharma Social Media Best Practices” deck soon. Until then, browse the version we presented at the DHC Spring Summit, and reach out to us with any questions:


Your Klick Social Health Partner

From social listening to guidance documentation, strategy to creative, content to community management, media and metrics to ROI analysis and optimization, Klick Social Health is here to help. Experts in the field, our thought leadership and dedicated, in-house capabilities provide the experience and technology your healthcare brand needs to succeed in social. Talk to us!

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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