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Diagnosing what ails health care marketers in the social-media realm

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Following up on last week’s write-up of wool.labs’ analysis of the downfall of GlaxoSmithKline’s Avandia in the social-media world, I wanted to highlight this interview with Bruce Grant, Digitas Health’s senior vice president for business strategy.

Grant taps into some of the same ideas wool.labs touched upon in its report on why Avandia has fallen so quickly from the public’s grace: Health care companies and their marketers often fail to listen to what the public is saying.

“We recommend creating a structured program of listening as an ongoing process,” Grant said. “After you’ve been listening for a period of time, and you’ve gotten a sense of the participants and their concerns, there comes a time when there’s an opportunity for you to say something. And in a real life conversation, the most important thing you can say is something that responds to the conversation that’s been going on.”

Most people are comfortable making decisions based on the recommendation of someone they know or someone dealing with a similar circumstance. This tendency makes social media all the more important for health care marketers, because social networks allow companies to reach consumers in a space where they’re open to having a conversation.

Grant testified before the Food and Drug Administration last year on pharmaceutical marketers’ use of social media in advance of the federal agency’s decision on social-media marketing guidelines — which are expected later this year. Grant pointed out that people with similar concerns and questions coming together to seek out information and advice isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. However, the opportunity to capitalize on a motivated and targeted audience gathered together —  in places such as WebMD, HealthCentral and other health care information exchange sites — can provide some unique benefits, he said.

“In our view, the real barriers to the pharmaceutical industry participating in social media are the same ones we saw in other industries over the last three to five years,” Grant said. “The industry needs to start from the premise that social media is about people getting what they need from one other rather than from large institutions.”

“The challenge is how do marketers relate to this? How do they exist in a world where there’s a big conversation that’s been going on before they arrived on the scene? How do they exist where the level of trust that people participating in the conversation have for each other, is higher than the level of trust they have for any marketer seeking to enter the conversation?”

Grant points to AstraZeneca as one company with a solid grasp of the social-media realm. The company has used its Twitter account to monitor any tweets about its products, so that it can respond to consumers directly. Those tweets are fairly direct, often directing those talking about AstraZeneca’s drugs to call a number at the company to receive more information. But in an age where misleading information can run wild via social-media sites, it is a solid step in the right direction.

What other ways should pharmaceutical companies be using social media? What other pitfalls do they need to be concerned about?

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Image credit, Cimmerian, via iStock Photo