Pharma's social status: LinkedIn and FB up, Twitter down, Instagram finally appears

Facebook is the go-to platform for pharma marketers. In a new study, 73% of pharma marketing teams say they plan to use the platform during the next two years, an 8-percentage-point increase since Cutting Edge Information's previous survey in 2013.

That's not surprising, considering Facebook’s mainstream ubiquity and large reach, along with stepped-up efforts by Facebook to reach out to the pharma industry. What might be surprising, however, is how much other social platforms have gained—or lost—in the world of drug marketing. Twitter took a big fall below the 50% mark, while LinkedIn soared upward in its place. Pinterest? Gone. Instagram? Finally popped up.

LinkedIn made the biggest gain in projected use since the last survey. The business-friendly social networking site grew by 29 percentage points. Just 26% of pharma marketers planned to use it in 2013; this year, that grew to 55%.

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Not nearly as important anymore was 140-character Twitter, where projected usage among pharma marketers dropped 19 percentage points. Only 45% plan to use it now, down from 64% in 2013.

Among the smaller social media platforms, Tumblr was on the to-do list for 9% of pharma marketers, while Instagram showed up for the first time in the survey, with 18% saying they’ll use it in the coming two years, said Natalie DeMasi, research team leader at Cutting Edge Information. Gone this year was Pinterest—which got zero reports of planned use, same as Vine, Flickr and Reddit.

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In general, pharma social media use remains targeted at patients, with key focus areas in brand education and corporate communications, DeMasi said.

The study also looked at overall use of digital, including mobile as a key tool for pharma marketing. Worth noting in this year’s study was a shift in mobile marketing: Pharma has turned its attention away from consumers to focus mobile efforts more on healthcare providers, sales reps and medical science liaisons.

“Patient adherence used to be a pretty big objective for mobile apps, for example, but that decreased a good amount in 2017,” DeMasi said. “In talking to executives, it sounds like the mobile health market is saturated with so many consumer apps—lots of fitness apps, nutrition apps and so many others—that there aren’t many opportunities for pharma to make a new app that patients would use. … Pharma is moving away from developing patient-focused mobile apps and instead making apps for physician education, detailing for sales reps, or investigator apps for coordinating clinical trials.”

Challenges still remain in digital marketing as pharma gets up to speed on technology but continues to deal with some audiences—some old-school doctors, for instance—who don’t want tech solutions.

“Today pharma marketers have to do a lot of research ahead of time to figure out what will speak most to their target audiences. Sometimes, the best thing to do might not be using the new technology. But other times you have to go all the way. Do the research to find out,” DeMasi said.