Big Pharma finds a hit with disease awareness social media posts in 2016

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Big pharma brands built social media connections in 2016 using disease awareness and charitable causes to empathize with consumers.

Pharma marketers continued to up their social media game in 2016, according to a new report, with many embracing disease awareness and charitable causes to drive engagement across social networks.

Unmetric, a social media market intelligence company, analyzed the U.S. activity and consumer engagement of 15 big pharma brands in 2016, and it found that disease awareness was the most engaging topic across all social media and pharma companies. Specifically on Facebook, company news and milestones also captured consumer attention, while on Twitter and LinkedIn, charitable causes and health tips scored well with consumers.

“When we looked at all the campaigns, content and hashtags that worked, the broad finding that came out was that all pharma companies saw the highest engagement when talking about the things that matter to their customers—most importantly the disease or condition they’re dealing with,” Lakshmanan Narayan, co-founder and CEO at Unmetric, said in an interview. “The maximum engagement came when they demonstrated empathy for what their customer and community is going through.”

Using a weighted scoring system of likes, comments and shares to gauge engagement, Unmetric found some of the most engaging Facebook posts in 2016 were Eli Lilly's posts about its online program to save money on its insulin products; Novo Nordisk's information about the carbon footprint of diabetes products; Boehringer Ingelheim's efforts for Brain Awareness Week; and Bayer’s 360-degree view of its illuminated brand cross from its rooftop.

On Twitter, Bayer’s announcement of its Monsanto acquisition intent scored high, while a Novo Nordisk post welcoming hundreds of new employees ranked high on LinkedIn.

But while pharma has made social media strides, not every pharma brand has company accounts on all social media, according to Unmetric. All 15 brands it studied are on Twitter and 11 maintain corporate Facebook pages, but only three companies—Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly—have Instagram accounts.

Unmetric also tracks other metrics, such as number and types of posts, reach, impressions, and customer reply time on social media. When looking at hashtags, for instance, on Facebook, campaigns like Boehringer Ingelheim’s #HiddenHeartChallenge and Eli Lilly’s #EndALZ scored high, while #WeCanICan from Bristol-Myers Squibb and #CervicalHealthMonth from Merck also did well.

“Three or four years ago, when we talked to a pharma company, they would be relatively reluctant to get onto social networks because of all the regulations,” Narayan said. “It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come since then with what brands now say and do on social networks, and in general, brands speaking for a cause is really what strikes a chord the most.”