Social media is among the most valuable channels by which pharmaceutical brands can reach healthcare decision-makers, drive engagement and build their businesses. However, according to Good Apple’s associate vice-president of media Samantha Simoneaux, there are a few key factors to keep in mind when building a social media strategy – from regulatory challenges to the rise of the pharma influencer.
The proliferation of social media channels and the expansive reach they enable has propelled healthcare provider (HCP) networking as they take to platforms including Facebook and LinkedIn to discuss their work and spread scientifically-backed research, products and treatments on a global scale. Engaging this audience across traditional social media channels offers many benefits, enabling marketers to reach HCPs in their professional sphere as well as in their personal, everyday lives.
And while strict pharma regulations have long stifled brand reach when using traditional targeting methods, social media is becoming increasingly pharma-friendly. Today, Facebook even allows for the same advanced targeting you’d expect from programmatic or EMR, thanks to the platform’s robust first-party data (a factor becoming increasingly important as the curtain falls on the third-party cookie). On a platform such as Facebook, pharma brands can home in on a specific HCP audience – or even a specific practitioner if your list match is right – and push out relevant content to them while they are scrolling.
For pharmaceutical brands, the importance of at least maintaining a presence on these social platforms is becoming more exigent. HCPs are there, just like they are on EMRs and portals. Brands can further increase their increasing frequency and reach by extending into social. As a result, they’ll drive awareness, engagement and, ultimately, ROI. But maximizing this ROI requires that brands consider certain factors when developing their social strategies.
The opportunity to catch Dr Sam as Ms Sam
We all know the importance of reaching doctors when they are in a healthcare practitioner mindset – while interacting with patients, consulting with their peers, at the point of prescribing or doing research. But we can’t forget the power of engaging with doctors while they are also in their everyday mindsets. Dr Sam is also Ms Sam. She engages with consumer channels because she too is a consumer. And the way that Dr Sam engages with social media during her off-hours is no exception.
According to MedData Group, 72% of physicians surveyed were active on Facebook weekly and 38% were active on Instagram and LinkedIn weekly. The types of professional content on Facebook that physicians are most likely to engage with include continuing medical education opportunities (37%) and physician online community information (31%).
Dr Sam as Ms Sam is still a doctor, always in doctor mode, and using social platforms to further her connections with other medical professionals or getting advice or education from those who can relate. Via social media, doctors connect with peers from all over the world, extending their network past their in-office or med school colleagues and gaining access to entirely new cohorts. The appeal of getting advice from trusted professionals or sharing research has attracted millions of HCPs worldwide.
The pharma influencer
Another key factor to consider is the steady rise of pharma influencers – which could arguably be the new term for key opinion leaders (KOLs), thanks to social media.
Pharma influencers, who are often HCPs, have mass followings and get treated like celebrities – but their social influence perks are often just a fallback for their everyday jobs as practitioners. Consumers often see these influencers as trusted authorities.
Considering that SocialPub projects that the social influencer industry will be worth between $5 and $10bn by next year, pharmaceutical brands that partner with popular – and well-trusted – social influencers have a valuable opportunity to drive their bottom line.
Understanding the pharma marketing funnel
The key to reaching HCPs is knowing that pharma follows the same marketing funnels as any other vertical – while acknowledging that there are stronger differentiators on how awareness happens.
Engagement with a doctor can be facilitated by a sales team in the doctor’s offices or via paid media promotions that have been targeted to key physicians via their NPI. These differences in how a doctor can be influenced require us to think about where physicians are in their condition/treatment journey and how the lower funnel metrics could also build up instead of our tendency to build strategies only from the top down.
Pharma brand managers and marketers should engage HCPs where they are spending their time: on social platforms that allow you to prepare now for a cookie-less world, and take advantage of a high-value targeting opportunity that is both established, yet largely untapped for many pharma brands. Challenge your in-house team or agency to bring you a clear HCP-focused social media strategy, and work with your legal and regulatory teams to educate marketers on what’s possible.
Samantha Simoneaux is associate vice-president of media at Good Apple.