Note to pharma: Stop fishing social media one hook at a time. A trawl net works much better

Social listening has become a common tool for many pharma marketers. But it's not enough, says a new white paper co-authored by IMS Health and UCB Pharma.

UCB's Greg Cohen

Pharma typically uses social listening only for one-off projects to answer a specific question. But that kind of tactical thinking isn't broad enough to tap the bigger benefits of social listening, said Greg Cohen, associate director in global strategic marketing at UCB.

"Many of those companies think it's some sort of Big Brother-NSA kind of thing, listening in to all your conversations," he said in an interview. "But it's no different than a lot of other market research applications, except that it's so much more--it's a way for marketers to find out what patients are really saying and how they're saying it."

He and paper co-author Siva Nadarajah, IMS Health's general manager of social media, maintain that pharma companies that aren't using social listening strategically are squandering competitive advantages and the opportunity to do better-targeted--and therefore more efficient and effective--marketing.

Their white paper cites a Best Practices study that found while 85% of healthcare and pharma companies surveyed are engaged in some type of social listening, only one-third use it as a source of competitive intelligence.

IMS Health's Siva Nadarajah

And for pharma still using the regulatory "excuse" of having to report adverse events they run across on social media, both authors agree the problem is highly overestimated. In a case of the fear being much larger than the reality, Nadarajah said, 2% or fewer of social media posts are accountable to adverse effects reporting.

They advise pharma companies to do continuous monitoring of social media, which not only results in current patient insights, but when advanced analytics are applied, can help predict future patient behavior.

The value of social listening is a theme IMS Health has been beating regularly over the past few years, but Nadarajah and Cohen said the paper was written now to continue pushing the message to pharma to act more strategically. IMS Health offers cloud-based social monitoring through its Nexxus Social platform.

"Rather than dismissing this dialogue as empty chatter or worrying about the implications of hearing something that might be more trouble than it is worth, industry needs to adopt practices from more consumer-oriented sectors and embrace social media intelligence on a continuous-listening basis," the authors wrote in the paper.

- read the full paper

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