Pharma Is Using Social Media Like A Total Noob

Have you ever seen a pharma ad on social media and uncontrollably let out an audible sigh of disappointment? I know I have. Why? Because I’m tired of seeing useless, unoriginal, and cliché content. I want content that is interesting, relevant, and valuable. Although Pharma has finally started to be more active in the social space (YAY!), a lot of companies still use social media like a total noob. What constitutes a “noob”? I’ll narrow it down to two types of users: Painfully Lame Linda & Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Scenario 1: Painfully Lame Linda*

A lot of pharma is what I call a “Painfully Lame Linda.” We all follow a Linda on one platform or another. Linda is notorious for sharing EVERYTHING that no one cares about…. like her commute, the fact that it is, in fact, a Monday and how the copy machine JUST broke. She bombards your newsfeed with memes (the un-funny ones), overshared graphics, and “inspirational” quotes. You get it. Linda shares and posts so often, it’s as if she’s terrified you’ll forget she exists.


*No offense to those named Linda. We are sure you are all super cool and fun. It’s just a metaphor 🙂

When it comes to pharma, the Lindas are posting the same content that was approved for their websites, print campaigns, or tv commercials (and often they turn off the ability to comment *GASP*). This filler content doesn’t bring any real value to the patient. How many posts or tweets have you seen like this:

You’re not alone. Find treatment options for adults with acute migraine attacks.
Please see Important Safety Information and full Prescribing Information: [ link here]

(yes, this is a real Facebook post, with brand name removed to protect the guilty)

 Seriously? If I wanted information about treatment options, I’d Google it! Social media is a “lean-back” medium. Patients aren’t on Facebook, or any social platform for that matter, actively seeking health information like they do in “lean-forward” mediums like Google and WebMD. What’s worse – the posts are cookie cutter. Replace the condition with any other condition, and bam – you’re yet another disconnected pharma company, indistinguishable from the rest.

Scenario 2: Casper the Friendly Ghost

In this instance, the social media newbie scrolls through their feed without ever actually being social. Instead of liking and commenting on posts and sharing their own content, they are entirely passive. The beauty of social media is the opportunity to make connections with two-way dialogue, and while Casper the Friendly Ghost can keep tabs on his friends and followers, he’s seriously missing out.

The Casper-like pharma companies are those lurking in the dark, collecting information and data. Social listening is a great tool for understanding your audience, sentiment, and perceptions, and I’m certainly not bashing the idea of including social listening in your multi-channel plan. But, there is so much more potential when it comes to social media. Come on pharma, we can’t be friends if we can’t see you!

We all know there’s significant legal and regulatory concerns behind a two-way dialogue on social media.

Concerns around fair balance and ISI, how to report adverse events, and content approval shadow the fact that simply being present on social media isn’t enough. Pharma companies are jumping on the social media bandwagon and sharing pre-approved content without tailoring it to that platform, and patients aren’t getting anything valuable out of it.

Yes, there are med-leg-reg concerns, but they aren’t insurmountable. There are pharma companies out there that are kicking ass when it comes to social campaigns. How? They have a matrix with pre-approved responses for handling malicious, offensive, and concerning comments. They’ve built and maintained guidelines regarding ownership, security, process, and retirement of said campaigns and set them up BEFORE launch. And they’ve developed community guidelines and pinned “rules of the road” to the top of their profiles with expectations and consequences clearly defined. Once you have the framework to safely interact in the social space, then you can start to think about tailoring or creating content specifically for social media.

Convinced? I thought so.

Now that you’ve made the decision to not use social media like a total noob, getting started still might seem too challenging. If patients don’t like the content you have, what content DO they want? We tend to forget that even though we’re marketers, we’re also patients. And even though we represent a company or brand, we’re all first and foremost human. We all have our individual struggles and challenges. So, why not use our own insights to inform our social media marketing strategy?

Toss the cookie-cutter content and think about what content YOU might find valuable. Sure, it can be tough to blend your personal and work life, but your own insights can be a great tool to inform your social media strategy and plan. Here’s some examples to get you thinking:

  • Chronic disease management (adherence and compliance resources, checklists, FAQs)
  • Promotion of healthy behaviors (weight loss/exercise tips, healthy eating habits and recipes)
  • Emotional support (group talk therapy, counsel)
  • Preventive care (safety tips, awareness boosting, vaccination reminders)
  • Palliative care/end-of-life care (planning checklists and resources, support groups)

My favorite (and delightfully cliché) saying is “practice what you preach.” Seriously, if I had a dime every time I said it, I’d retire tomorrow. That being said, I’m going to put myself out there and share my own story. I’ll explain how personal experiences and insights can inform social media marketing strategies and the type of content you might consider sharing. Perhaps my story will inspire you to dig deeper into your own story or spark a new idea.

But of course, I’m going to make you wait a week because it’s not done and I’m a busy gal. Stay tuned.

– T

In the meantime check out this post: WHY PHARMA REFUSES TO SEE VALUE IN “INFLUENCE”

Tina Niemynski
Tina has over 12 years’ experience in graphic and web design/development and animation and 5 years’ experience in digital strategy. She holds an A.S. in Advertising Design & Graphic Technology from SUNY Ulster, a B.A. in Graphic Design from SUNY College at Oneonta and an M.F.A in Media Design from Full Sail University.

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