Preparing for the Plunge: Pharmaceuticals and Social Media

August 2, 2011

In order to learn more about how social media can be implemented in campaigns for our pharmaceutical clients, I was recently fortunate enough to attend the Healthcare & Life Sciences Social Communications Leadership Forum in San Diego, Calif. Held by PR Newswire in cooperation with the Business Development Institute, the forum comprised a group of marketing and communications professionals from a variety of medical-based companies who got together to discuss the importance of social media within the healthcare industry.


As I have noticed with the majority of forums on this subject, there wasn’t much conversation around social media related specifically to pharmaceutical companies or products because everyone is anticipating the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines. (There has been much speculation as to when these guidelines will be announced; it was mentioned during this event that the guidelines won’t likely surface until at least next year.) Though pharma may not be ready to dive in, consumers and patients want to have the vehicle to connect with companies directly. This will be a huge opportunity for pharma to help convey safety information, clear any confusion and help improve compliance.
Even though pharmaceuticals were not the main topic of the day, the forum nonetheless shared a lot of advice and statistics that are very interesting and relevant to what we do around the Global Healthcare Practice here at Ketchum. Here are the top five key takeaways from the forum:

  1. 100 million U.S. adults are using social media for health advice; this remains consistent with data we’ve seen about healthcare information on the Web.
  2. 70% of people will believe health information coming from people they’ve never met, and 81% of women will believe information from other women that they’ve never met.
  3. 37% of all clinicians reported using social media for professional networking, and 64% of them would choose Facebook if they could choose only one social networking site.
  4. 37% of physicians use healthcare-related mobile apps, and 17% of them use their mobile devices for healthcare-related content.
  5. In the absence of FDA guidelines, companies should look to the following rules:
  • Be truthful.
  • Provide fair balance.
  • Give adequate disclosure of risk.
  • Don’t be misleading.

So what does this all mean for healthcare clients? Customers and patients taking a company’s medications want the opportunity to interact with that company online the same way they do with other products that they consume every day. The opportunities are endless, so while the FDA works to determine appropriate guidelines, pharma needs to get ready. We need to help companies start listening, educating and building consensus internally about social media policies from the top down. The chance to join the conversation may be just around the corner.