Some staggering facts:
Did you know that in a population of 1.26 billion of India , there are 946 million
mobile connections and over a 100million have active social accounts..
Data culled from Facebook usage suggests that there is a potential to reach 20
million people who are interested in healthcare and wellness topics.
According to an Accenture survey conducted in USA among 2000 patients, they
found that 76% of patients think pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to
provide information and services that help patients manage their own health. Nearly
as many respondents (74%) indicate that the appropriate time to initiate outreach is
when they start to take a medication.
The survey also found that more than two-thirds-68% of patients/consumers spend
several hours a day online and that patients preferred digital and social outreach
from pharma companies when receiving information on medicines and healthcare.
Closer home in India , many of us are steadily engaged in this digital world through
various social platforms . The time spent by an Indian on social media is 2hrs and 31
mins, which is more than the world average.
While FMCG companies have stolen a march on the use of social media, can pharma
companies stay disengaged from Social Media for long? Probably not.
According to a Mckinsey article on Healthcare and Social Media; they claim it is a
winning formula. Rightfully so.
It is a common observation that various stakeholders of the healthcare community
like patients, Doctors , friends , family members are involved in healthcare decisions
and they use social media for different but related purposes
Lets look at some advantages for pharmaceutical companies when they engage in
1) Social Media allows direct communication with the audience
While the ethical route to connecting to a patient is through a doctor , there
are scores of people using various social media platform who are exchanging
views and opinions related to health especially towards disease awareness and community building. A pharma company can positively leverage this insight to create and build relevant communities
2) Adds value to patient and Doctor communities
Pharma companies which have strong market position in a particular
therapeutic area for e.g. oncology can leverage this media for patient benefit.
If a patient has been detected with a type of cancer for which the company
has medicine options, such a patient can benefit from viewing videos
developed by the company, which focuses on coping strategies for such
patients. The benefit of such an engagement could be manifold such as a
better-informed patient community, a sense of emotional support for such
patients and goodwill towards the sponsoring company
3) Shaping Perceptions
A Jan-March 2013 data from Creation Pinpoint which claims to be the
world’s first social media monitoring tool dedicated to analyzing
conversations between doctors indicates that Sanofi is amongst the most
mentioned topics by Healthcare Professionals discussing diabetics in public
social media. Among 13,000 tweets in the study, which analyzed mentions of
diabetes by Healthcare Professionals worldwide between Jan-March
2013,Sanofi was mentioned over 100 times.
In effect what Sanofi is doing is shaping perceptions about its commitment
towards fighting diabetes world over
So where does the diffidence of pharma companies come from in not engaging in
Social media in a big way:
There exist very little, regulatory guidelines on how companies (in most countries
across the globe, including USA, Europe and of course, India) should use the social
media for creating disease/brand awareness. Companies seem still cagey about what
information to share with different target groups such as patients, physicians and the
media. Providing adequate and accurate information is also an onus that rests with
the company. With companies fearing the backlash of governing bodies, they are
resorting to very limited usage of social media tools. Most Multinational companies
have strict guidelines and code of conduct laid down on use of Social Media which
Also, the wide reach that social media provides could be a potential double-edged
sword. If there is a positive customer feedback, millions get to know, but if there is a
negative feedback, they still get to know! This makes it possible for even rivals to
deliberately post adverse comments and misinform customers. This fear of libel and
defamation keeps several companies from adopting social media in a big way.
With the lack of stringent regulations, it becomes difficult for companies to instill
faith and confidence in customers that the information being provided to them is
honest and accurate and that it is being done with an intention to inform and not
promote their own brands.
Further, unlike the West, there are very few ‘patient communities’ that are active in
India. These communities usually offer user-generated data that companies can use
and monitor to gain valuable insights about their target audience.
Another issue, which needs to be addressed, is relevancy and recency of information
on a social media site. In order to have continued and increased traction amongst
user/viewers, both these issues are extremely important. One envisages a time when
pharmaceutical companies might have a full fledged and dedicated team to oversee
its social media content. Currently very few pharma companies if at all have a
“Digital Product Manager”
Lastly and most importantly how and what should the measurement metrics be to
evaluate the success or failure of using this media. Is it the total number of hits?
Should it be repeat visits? Data analytics will play a critical role in ensuring objectivity
to these measurement metrics. There are many capable digital agencies in India
which have developed such measurement matrix which can address the issue of
The way ahead
There is a large consensus that social media is here to stay. Even the statistics
churned out year after year by various surveys and reports confirms this fact.
Internet users are growing exponentially all across the globe and it’s no different in
India. In general, patients and providers are becoming more empowered on the
Internet. They are willing to interact with a pharmaceutical company using this
channel if they believe it’s to their benefit and that they can trust the company
Companies can self-regulate and put in place some of their own guidelines on how
to use the social media. They can outline the role and responsibilities of employees
with respect to use of social media and train them on the dos and don’ts of the same.
User-generated content from patients and providers needs to be secured, retrieved,
analyzed and maintained in a regulatory controlled manner. Companies should then
marry the insights gained from their audience to their marketing strategy.
In conclusion it is high time for pharmaceutical companies in India to participate in
this technology revolution and adopt social media as an integral part of their business
– B. Sriram