Pharma industry should take a page from airline social media mavens, consultant says

Airlines are known for their quick and effective social media responses, often helping stranded and annoyed passengers in real time. But while pharma companies can’t solve problems instantly with a reroute or seat change, they can definitely look to airline’s social media savvy for inspiration, one industry consultant says.

Pharma companies need to get over the mindset that social media is too difficult to do in the regulated industry, Gregg Fisher, founder and managing partner at healthcare engagement consultancy the Stem, told FiercePharma. The way he sees it, they should look to the airline industry, where companies like JetBlue respond to customer complaint Tweets within an average of 5.5 minutes.

“It’s a bit of hyperbole, … but the concept is the same. You have a social media manager who is actively monitoring public forums for complaints and seeking to address those complaints as quickly as possible,” Fisher said. 

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Some life sciences companies are on their way there. Fisher pointed to Medtronic, which is not one of his clients, as a good example of a quick, effective and responsive social media user--especially when it comes to its Facebook page. One reason? The medical device company has a social media community manager whose job is to monitor and respond to patient posts in real time.

Most pharma companies, though, still don’t have full- or even part-time social media managers, he said.

Sure, a lot of pharma companies are listening online--"a lot of lurking, so to speak"--all in aggregate to understand what’s happening among consumers. GlaxoSmithKline did just that in 2013, using a text analytics model to analyze public discussion boards on and in an attempt to assess patient sentiment about vaccines. 

But very few of them are then doing what Fisher call "actionable intelligence," or "acting on the data to provide a benefit of some kind,” he said.

He recommended becoming aware of discussions on social media--which he called a "treasure trove of valuable patient insights"--and analyzing what percentage could be acted upon to the mutual benefit of the brand and the patient. For instance, is someone posting worries over the expense of a drug? That could be an opening to offer patient assistance programs, keeping a customer around while also helping a patient pay for a drug he or she needs.

While pharma has room to grow in that regard, some industry players are ahead of the pack. Roche and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen--also not Stem clients--are two other pharmas that Fisher says employ better-than-average social media monitoring processes.

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