'Safe' social network LinkedIn emerges as popular marketing tool for pharma

LinkedIn's professional social network appeals to business people, networkers and recruiters, but also to industries that tend to be more cautious on social media. Welcome, pharma.

LinkedIn's Stephanie Katzman

"Healthcare, overall, and pharma is definitely on the developmental side of the LinkedIn spectrum, if you will, from an advertising perspective," said Stephanie Katzman, LinkedIn's healthcare lead in its Marketing Solutions group. "But over the past three years, we've seen a huge growth in having these companies consider LinkedIn as a channel."

Many drugmakers have taken a first step, usually by setting up a company page where drugmakers can build up followers and create an audience with employees, colleagues and associates. But pharmas are increasingly using LinkedIn for paid sponsorships and advertising. Sponsored updates and InMail campaigns are beginning to move from testing to a repeat marketing strategy among pharmas, Katzman said.

InMail, in which sponsored messages are sent directly to targeted LinkedIn members inboxes, tends to be "safe" for pharma because email bypasses any open comment possibilities, she said. LinkedIn will only send InMail paid messages to a user's account once every 60 days, but Katzman said pharma companies who test InMail more often than not will quickly line up for the next opening.

Across her three and a half years at LinkedIn, she said, in the first year there were just two or three pharma companies using LinkedIn for paid advertising, but the number has grown to about a dozen now.

Sponsored updates account for about 50% of LinkedIn's marketing unit total revenue, a spokeswoman said. However, a note of caution from Katzman: Because sponsored updates are usually "teaser" content that links to more information, she encourages pharma not to use those for branded drugs.

"I think there are a lot of opportunities for pharma companies to be the leader and the innovator across their competitive set," Katzman said. "… Professionals on LinkedIn are connected to peers, colleagues and managers so the platform allows for that much more engagement. You're not hiding behind a handle or showing pictures of family, this is your professional brand."

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

As far as individual pharma executives using LinkedIn, an informal look at the CEOs of the largest 20 revealed fewer than half have accounts on LinkedIn. CEOs Ian Read at Pfizer ($PFE) and Joe Jimenez at Novartis ($NVS) are among those who have up-to-date LinkedIn profiles. Mr. Read is, in fact, in the LinkedIn Influencer network, an invitation-only designation for corporate thought leaders. Even Allergan ($AGN) CEO Brent Saunders, an active social media user with more than 500 LinkedIn followers, is not up to date; his profile lists him as still CEO of Actavis.

However, when asked about the "missing" CEOs, Katzman said pharma executive behavior is pretty typical among executives from all industries. Some use it more than others and typically for more personal professional reasons such as building networks and consuming industry content.

- see LinkedIn's roster of Influencers

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