Pharma's social media strategies are growing up—and working better, too, report finds

Social media graph from Ogilvy Healthworld annual research report plots pharma company engagement across number of posts in 2017. (Ogilvy Healthworld)

Pharma companies are maturing on social media, if Ogilvy Healthworld’s latest Social Check-up report is any indication. Its research with Pulsar looked at the top 20 global pharma companies and found that, overall, pharma is becoming more sophisticated in strategy, content and targeting on social media.

For instance, the size of pharma's social media communities grew even as the average number of weekly postings decreased. That points to an emphasis on quality content that’s working, said Chloe Partikas, social media director for Ogilvy Healthworld, which is part of Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

The most engaging pharma companies, in fact—Novo Nordisk, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis—each had a below-average number of posts, but the posts were better targeted, as evidenced by followers’ responses.

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Leading the pack in terms of engagement was Novo Nordisk, which also ranked at the top of the last Social Check-up in 2016, growing its weighted engagement score by 13%. Novo Nordisk was followed by J&J, with an increase of 111% in its engagement score, and Novartis, which jumped 77% over its 2016 score. Boehringer Ingelheim had one of the biggest drops in engagement; it still came in at No. 6, but it lost 62% from its previous engagement measure in 2016.

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Partikas said part of the reason Novo Nordisk did so well on engagement is because its more targeted focus on diabetes means most of the content the company posts is more likely relevant to its followers. She noted that Novo Nordisk also has a smart paid targeting strategy working to amplify its content.

The researchers looked at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to evaluate community size, number of posts, engagement and content. As a platform, Instagram grew the most by total number of users for pharma companies, with an increase of 67% in followers. Instagram was still the smallest of the four platforms with 77,000 total pharma followers, but it does point to the importance of visually engaging content, Partikas said.

In looking at the social media output from pharma companies, Ogilvy noted that the types of posts that performed best focused on the human side of the business, whether that was patients or employees. Other content that did well included company involvement in awareness days or had celebrities attached to the effort.

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“It’s clear that social is a really high priority for some companies. For some that didn’t perform as well here, it might not be as important to their current communications strategy,” Rick Evans, senior digital strategist at Ogilvy Healthworld, said. “But when I think of four or five years ago, when I’d be in a room with pharma clients talking about social media, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’d be a few people in the room who didn’t have any social profiles. I think the appetite and the comfort level that (pharma) people feel with social platforms is very different now.”