J&J, Glaxo are tops in social media, but smaller drugmakers rate highly, too

Pharma is behind the curve in social media. That's no revelation. Drug marketing types have lamented the fact for some time--particularly those of you who work for cautious companies skeptical that Twitter, Facebook, et al, are worth the trouble. And too risky to boot.

Consider yourselves fortunate, then, that the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics chose to delve into the subject. Its new report makes the case for social media--complete with the sort of statistics you'd want for your own memos to the powers that be. It cautions against too much caution. Plus, the report concludes that traditional definitions of ROI just don't apply.

For instance, doctors spend three hours a week watching work-related videos online. Almost 90% of young adults use social media, and they tend to go online for input before starting treatment for a newly diagnosed condition. Overall, patients with chronic conditions gather info online not only when treatment starts or changes, but on an ongoing basis. While online sources serve as a sort of encyclopedia, patients and families understandably see social media as more of a support system.

The bottom line: Patients are seeking advice and sharing information and looking for support via their Twitter feeds and on Facebook. "Healthcare professionals, regulators and pharmaceutical manufacturers all need to overcome their reticence and acknowledge the vital role that they can and should play in contributing to the healthcare conversation," Murray Aitken, executive director of the IMS Institute, said in a statement.

If drugmakers want to strengthen relationships with patients and doctors--and build brand loyalty along the way--they need to get into the middle of the conversation. Actively. A one-way press release feed won't cut it, the institute says. And forget waiting around for the FDA to finish its social media guidance. The agency has handed out enough clues and rules for savvy marketers to draw their own boundaries.

Is anyone--anyone?--in pharma making a solid social play? Not many. Only 23 of the top 50 drugmakers participate in the social media sphere, and only 10 use all three of the biggies--Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The IMS report ranks Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) at the top of the pyramid, partly because of its strong consumer-health business. The consumer side of the business also helped drive GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to second place, Pfizer ($PFE) to fourth, and Novartis ($NVS) to fifth.

On the prescription drugs side, it's the smaller companies that are using social media most effectively, namely Novo Nordisk ($NVO), Boehringer Ingelheim (which has actually built a Facebook game) and UCB.

Of course, the institute's report acknowledges the pitfalls. For one thing, social media chatter moves quickly, so marketing staffers need to be quick to reply to tweets and posts, or risk angering the very people they're trying to reach. Plus, all that info gathered via social media will need analysis, so drugmakers need to be ready to deal with Big Data. But as the report notes, companies need to acknowledge that mistakes will happen--and just be ready to deal with them.

- get the IMS Institute report

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