Socially educated patients: pharma-friendly social

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Ben Weisman
Ben Weisman

From healthcare coverage and insurance products to medical devices and treatment options, the medical industry encompasses a diverse and often complicated set of services and products. Specifically with medical treatments, patients and caregivers often look to other like-minded communities to learn more about their options in order to be well-informed. The rise of the socially-educated patient is here.

In addition to the wide range of restrictions and requirements that pharmaceutical brands must adhere to when communicating with healthcare professionals (HCPs), patients and consumers, they may also consider and leverage the real-life patients that post on social networks, forums and blogs with their personal stories. Because patients are always listening and participating, pharmaceutical brands need to find relevant ways to deliver their message in an authentic social voice in order to better articulate their messages and truly participate in the conversation while delivering fair balance.

This is a part of the new reality of what MRM sees as CRM 3.0, the place between branded messages and user influence and how brands can be impacted by the larger digital community of patients. There is always risk when blazing a trail, but being prepared and focusing your initiative helps brands avoid existing pitfalls. Be as informed as you can and surround yourself and your brand with people who keep abreast of regional, state and federal healthcare laws, FDA guidance, medical trends and user trends.

Here are seven steps that MRM practices with its pharmaceutical and healthcare brands when developing and/or strengthening their social presence.

Step 1: Document the current landscape

Since the landscape is changing every three to six months, legal teams and internal medical editors need to constantly refresh their understanding of “what social means” for their products. It is imperative to engage product specialists and social media category specialists within your internal or agency team.

Step 2: Ask the question

Is my brand team up to the challenge of taking the leap into the social landscape? What industry laws, regulations, policies or other restrictions do we need to observe? Who is our audience? For what does our brand stand?

Step 3: Decide where your growth is and what the brand can own

Should your brand focus on disease state education or building brand affinity? Should your social brand goal be specific to the brand or is it more about the parent organization? Decide if you want to project messages that are branded or unbranded.

Step 4: Restrictions must be embraced

Branded messages will take into account, at a minimum, the ISI (Important Safety Information) and other claim-based parameters.

Step 5: Content calendars are essential

Create a strategic content calendar that includes meaningful content around brand attributes and educational content for patients and/or caregivers. Content may include cues for patients to talk to their doctors about treatment options and information to help them better understand their disease states.

Step 6: Media spend can enable permissions

Social media's full potential is unlocked when media buying is paired with earned media. Dedicating real funds to buying access to services social networks have is key. And in turn, dedicating funds to a community manager with content and strategic chops can enable valuable communications to unfold.

Step 7: What does social mean for your products:

Define a clear sense of the areas of the social landscape that align themselves with your product and brand. For some, closed networks may be right, and for others, open networks and gaming may be what social means for them.

Social networks are beginning to further recognize the need for specific industries, like pharmaceuticals, their products and legal requirements. There is risk with every execution, but there is also tremendous benefit. As further iterations shine the possibilities and the areas into which they may have permission to trail blaze into, the end users/patients and brands will really benefit from pharma-friendly social.

Because patients want to be educated about their medical treatment options, they should be able to use social channels to connect and unlock information. Using definite brand voices, pharmaceutical companies can authentically build relationships through custom social executions, such as game play or distribution of information about disease states. Some patients will be driven towards product affinity slowly, so give them the chance to make a deeper connection with the brand. Though it may cost some time and money to play in the social space, it is a low cost of entry compared to traditional activities.

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