Social media deliver pitfalls and positives for pharmas engaging cancer community, agency says

Using analytics, pharma companies can turn reams of social media data points into patient and HCP insights, Real Chemistry's Discern says. (Getty Images)

Pharma companies today can reach cancer patients and physicians more easily than ever thanks to social media—but should they? Yes, but prepare for both pitfalls and positives, say Real Chemistry’s Discern researchers who’ve been studying the space.

While pharma companies can build more direct connections to cancer community members, marketers also need to navigate through the misinformation and overwhelming amount of data on social media.

In the last quarter, there were 132,000 Twitter posts about breast cancer, said Theresa Schmidt, Discern's vice president of health. Using analytics, though, pharma companies can turn reams of data points into patient and HCP insights.

“Companies can use it to figure out what value messaging might resonate best but also to learn what are breast cancer patients’ barriers to treatment, and in general, what are the challenges that cancer patients are dealing with on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

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Misinformation is another problem that pharma companies can work to flip. Bad actors abound on social media, whether to push a position or a product, intentionally misleading cancer community members with purposefully bad or just incorrect sources.

As Schmidt noted, social media are not peer-reviewed. By allying with trusted sources—key opinion leaders, patient advocacy groups and associations—the pharma industry can “borrow” trust and relevance, making sure to be transparent about the association.

Justin Kerley, director for integrated intelligence at Discern, said, “Pharma companies can play the role of harmonizer in a lot of this discussion with so much noise out there. It’s easy to follow the loudest voice, but pharma companies can help guide online conversations and point patients to reliable information by working with credible sources.”

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A recent study of popular social media articles and posts around four common cancers found 32.5% contained misinformation, and 30.5% contained harmful information. Maybe even more disconcerting is that the misinformation articles got more attention, the researchers reported.

“Patients aren’t in a vacuum anymore,” Kerley said. “They can engage with others even from the safety and comfort of their own home, find out about others’ experiences and judge what’s best in their own journey. And they can also access experts including pharma in a way that they couldn’t years ago.”