The Social Fight For Pharma

The social fight for pharma companies has begun. As part of the never-ending rivalry between the social media giants, Facebook and Google, one of them is quick to realize what the other one missed out on. And while I stated numerous times that in my opinion Facebook “forcing” pharma to communicate is actually a good thing and doesn’t mean a big change, it gave a reason to a lot of people to start comparing the relationship of Google and Facebook with pharma.

Since Google made it possible for companies to decide what suggested videos appear on their corporate Youtube channels the score is 1-0 in favor of Google according to most pharma marketers. A lot of them only see the actions and not the consequences. They see that Google gives them more freedom on Youtube, while Facebook is introducing new restrictions.

But will full control and no communication stand against monitored conversation and active engagement? I doubt it. Sure, it is nice to oversee what kind of videos are suggested on your channel, but you can do that with Facebook ads as well. And picking the company you are in online is not the same as having the option to turn off the social aspect of a site. One is understandable, one is totally against the basic idea of social media.

So painting Google as the good parent, who gives you freedom, while making Facebook seem like the strict, evil one is nowhere near fair. Even comparing the two actions (allowing selected suggestions and turning on comments) is like comparing apples and oranges. And while people like to keep score and watch the social media moguls compete we should remember that maybe it is not worth to compromise the essence of being social to gain more traffic or an industry’s support.

(Source: ePharma Summit Blog)

Why Would You Say No To Social Media?

Recently I read an article that questioned the relevance and the justification of social media in healthcare. I would like to go through some of the interestingly put, misinterpreted and weirdly positioned arguments the post included to prove my point, that social media in fact has (or should have) an important role in healthcare.

Talking about today’s pharmaceutical era the article states that:

  • most consumers do not want to connect with drug companies on social media
  • most drug companies don’t have the resources to talk to people via social media

What do we base the first statement on? The fact that consumers don’t connect with pharma on social sites could apply that the conditions need to be changed. Maybe the drug companies need to be willing to communicate as well? Just a thought. And to say that drug companies don’t have the resources to talk to consumers via social media is almost comical. An multi-trillion industry that spends billions of dollars on TV and print ads can’t hire a few dozen people to set up Facebook pages for free and monitor them?

Reading the article I had the feeling that a relatively big section of the text contradicted the title of the article. How can you make a statement, that social media is not the answer and has no future in healthcare, then write the following:

Social media is a way of looking at marketing and realizing that today consumers want more control about what they purchase, why they purchase it and especially what goes in their bodies. Hell now there is even conflicting news stories about common OTC products that may not be completely safe !

The drug industry has long ignored consumers who want to be heard and give feedback. To them it’s all about push marketing with message testing and while that may meet some brand objectives it’s not enough at a time when less people are going to their doctor and less are filling Rx’s.

If you realize that there is a demand for more information and control over purchases, you realize that consumers want to ask questions and give feedback and that these demands are being ignored for the most part by pharma companies, how can you deny the importance and convenience of social media as a tool.

It is true that social media in itself can’t change healthcare, you need informed and creative people to operate social channels as tools. But the answer is not to take out social media from the equation, but add the right professional forces. It is definitely not the comfortable solution since it’s time-consuming and involves a great deal of work, but on the long run it is still more productive than to say no to social media based on fabricated and contradictory reasons.

(Source: DTC Marketing)

Pharma Ads And Online Boundaries

It is interesting to see how different online media companies go about  find setting up rules for pharmaceutical content on their platforms. Some learn from their own experiences, some are careful from the start.

Google for example had to learn the hard way that strict control is needed when it comes to prescription drug ads appearing online. The web giant paid 500 Million dollars in a settlement over AdWords content advertising illegal import of Canadian drugs into the United States. And signs suggest that the company was prepared to handle a situation like this, since the amount was set aside for this purpose. But the hit taken by Google was still enormous: the 500 Million dollars roughly equal the company’s revenue from the Canadian pharmacy ads, plus the pharmacies’ revenue from sales to U.S. customers.

Facebook seems to be trying to avoid a similar fail. Just recently the company updated its already strict Advertising Guidelines. The description of rules has a separate section for pharmaceuticals and supplements that could be very helpful when creating effective Facebook ads.

Pharmaceuticals and Supplements

Ads must not promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals. Ads for online pharmacies are prohibited except that ads for certified pharmacies may be permitted with prior approval from Facebook.

Ads that promote dietary and herbal supplements are generally permitted, provided they do not promote products containing anabolic steroids, chitosan, comfrey, dehydroepiandrosterne, ephedra, human growth hormones, melatonin, and any additional products deemed unsafe or questionable by Facebook in its sole discretion.

Depending on your contract with Google you are not entirely in charge what appears among the ads. On Facebook as well several ads appear on your Page that were selected based on only the main focus of your profile. Still I feel more comfortable with Facebook’s solution since the same clear rules apply to all advertisers.

Setting up a Facebook ad is easy, but it also has the crucial step of approval process integrated. From Google’s settlement it seems that they should apply similar restrictions as well.

What do you prefer: Google AdWords or Facebook ads? Let us know in the comments section below!

(Source: Reuters, Facebook)

For News Sites Facebook Comes In Handy

According to data published by Facebook in June, at least 7,4% the traffic of the five most popular European news site comes from the social network. German, the third biggest online news publisher on the continent gets 14% of its visitors from Facebook. Also, they experienced the largest growth (11%) in social site driven traffic last year.

10,6% of readers of the British MailOnline get to the site trough Facebook compared to 3,7% last year. has 13,5 million unique visitors 7,4% of which comes from Facebook.

Back in May the Pew Research Center studied news sites in the United States and found that Facebook is the second or third largest source of driving traffic to the five biggest news publishing portals:

  • The Huffington Post: 8% of the traffic comes from Facebook.
  • The New York Times: 6% of the traffic comes from Facebook.
  • Examiner: around 6% of the traffic comes from Facebook.
  • CNN: around 7% of the traffic comes from Facebook.
  • ABC News: around 7% of the traffic comes from Facebook.


The Digital Era Of Healthcare

I have said before that quoting numbers from studies endlessly and keep proving that we live in the era of social networks is pointless. After a while people can say: “Ok, we get it! A lot of us use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.” Even the role of online content and social engagement in healthcare don’t really need further proof to be taken seriously.

Despite all that I wanted to share this video below. First of all because it includes all of the most important data about social media use and how that effects healthcare and patient information. Secondly because I believe that for whatever reason the same facts presented in a fast pace video can grab people’s attention better than any results in written words.

To make it easier for viewers to follow, here are the key findings included in the video:

  • There are 2.08 billion internet users worldwide
  • That number increased 11% in the last year only
  • There are 476,213,935 internet users in Europe
  • There are over 156 million blogs online
  • Over 200 million people on Twitter sending out 40 billion tweets per year
  • Wikipedia has over 3.65 million articles that would take more than 123 years to read
  • Facebook has over 750 million users – if it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world after China and India
  • Every second someone joins LinkedIn
  • Youtube serves 1 billion videos everyday
  • Google logs 2 billion searches daily
  • Healthcare is the second most search for topic on Google
  • Healthcare is the third largest web activity across all generations
  • 85% of online Europeans turn to the internet and other technology for health and prescription information
  • In a survey of 4,000 physicians 88% said they used internet resources to search for professional information
  • 48% claimed to visit Wikipedia more than once a week compared to only 16% visiting BMJ online
  • 50% of patients discuss what they have found online with their doctors
  • Patients who visit a brand website are more likely to request a drug by name
  • 44% of physicians prescribe a requested drug
  • 49% of physicians will recommend a website to patients – 80% for disease or condition education and awareness, 62% for patient support, 56% for health or lifestyle change, 37% for drug and product specific information, 22% for online communities for patients with the same condition
  • 95% of physicians use handheld devices and smartphones to download applications and access medical information

(Source: Pharma Marketing: The Weekly Dose)

Pharma And Social Media – What Is The Number 1 Rule?

Recently I voted on a poll put together by Combined Media about the rules of engagement in the pharmaceutical industry. While I think this is quite a wide topic and could be very subjective, it is worth to take a moment and think about priorities one should set when engaging online. Readers participating in the poll had 8 different options to choose from or they could add their own number one rule as well.

What Is The Most Important Rule of Engagement for Pharma Using Social Media?

  • Adding valuable content
  • Constant Vigilance of Non-Promotional Messages
  • Being Consistent in the Message and Objective of the Strategy
  • Moving Beyond Sales and Interacting with Users
  • Being transparent
  • Having a Personality
  • Complying with Social Media Etiquette
  • Abiding By a Company Appropriate Code of Conduct
  • Other

As of now voters picked 3 reasons from the list above: constant vigilance, moving beyond sales and interact, follow the company’s code of conduct. I think these are very important elements of an online presence. But I am also convinced that you can’t have social media without interaction. You can monitor, choose your content so it’s not full of direct advertising and still you are not engaging since you don’t communicate with your audience.

I do believe content is king and without that you don’t have much to say. I do think you have to carefully observe what is happening on your social site, you also have to be consistent on your platforms. Being transparent and creative with a noticeable personality is crucial as well to stand out and to build a stable following. Having a set of rules and guidelines, and acting according to online etiquette are just as important. But even if you manage your online presence complying with this set of rules doesn’t mean you are engaging your audience. And also, without having a relationship with your followers, how do you know if your content is valuable? How do you know if your messages actually reach people? How do you know that readers respond to the personality you represent?

Without interaction you are not social. That’s why it should be the number one rule of engagement.

To vote head to Combined Media’s blog!

(Source: Combined Media)

Social Media Marketing – Just How Powerful?

It’s time for another inforgraphic. In this post we look at how effective certain social channels can be when it comes to advertisement campaigns. When you look at numbers separately it is hard to decide if your campaign was a success, or what kind of rates you should be looking for. The charts below compare some of the top ads that received the highest level of responses on different social media platforms.

The numbers are almost mind blowing: for example Evian’s ad featuring roller skating babies got 65.5 million views in 2 years. That seems to be outrageous. Until you see, that the “Will it blend?” iPad video received 12 million in only 4 months, while Coca-Cola’s promoted Twitter trend reached 86.5 million impressions in a single month. While Facebook seems to be popular for small businesses, since 70% of them use the social site for marketing purposes, sharing ads is becoming more and more expensive with prices increasing 70% in just the first half of 2011.

Even if you don’t compare your campaigns to the ones featured in the infographic (to keep at least part of your self-confidence), it is interesting to see just how big of a buzz you can create through creatively using social channels.

(Source: Mashable)

Facebook Comments Don’t Hurt The Socially Engaged

Well the results of the commenting changes on Facebook are everything but surprising. They can be summed up very easily: companies already using Facebook to engage with patients don’t mind letting their fans actually participate. Others who delete their pages most likely were not using the social site to communicate anyway. It’s a really obvious statement: commenting changes don’t hurt the socially engaged.

This is what Silja Chouquet proved in one of her recent posts on According to her summary that observed the Facebook activity of five pharma companies, organizations, for instance Boehringer or Johnson & Johnson, who are actively involving their audience on their page welcomed comments long before the changes. Their posts are directly addressed to their fans and they encourage them to comment. And as the results show, followers respond to their questions and their shared content. Others, like Novartis closed down their fan pages, saying no to the Facebook commenting changes. The charts below show how many posts the five companies (Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, GSK, Boehringer and Novartis) shared and how many likes and comments they received in the last week. The connection is obvious:

Either you engage with patients, or you don’t. You either need Facebook, or you don’t. If you decide to have a dialogue with your audience, than the policy changes don’t effect you. If you decide not to have a discussion with your followers, you don’t really need Facebook, so once again, the changes don’t effect you. They only matter to companies, who needed that last push to really dive into social media and use the tools what they are created for. Like Pfizer, who had the highest number of fans but only started posting more frequently and receiving feedback.


For more, check out and follow Silja (@whydotpharma) on Twitter.

There Are Bigger Concerns Than Facebook Comments

I kind of feel like the fear of Facebook forcing pharma companies to allow comments is getting out of control. I do realize that it is something new and like always, that generates opinions and slightly nervous expectations, but the level of alleged resistance is greater than it should be.

There are three reasons for that. They are rather simple:

  • You have a choice to be on Facebook or delete your account. Maybe comments can be forced, but participation can’t.
  • You can use applications to moderate the comments before they appear on your page. And that is real control.
  • So far there is no obvious evidence that pharma companies will in fact leave Facebook. So as for now, there is no issue to talk about.

The emphasis is usually on the attitude of Facebook while bloggers and pharma representatives express their concerns about the mean leaders of the social media giant – like they are doing something fundamentally wrong by following their original, basic communication model. Facebook is supposed to be a platform for communication, and yes that word includes the idea of not one but more participants.

A recent article pointed out what generated all the fuss about the coming Facebook change:

“… this means that they need someone dedicated to social media marketing and a process to approve or delete comments and right now with people being let go left and right that is some heavy lifting.”

I agree with the statement that it is a heavy lifting, but I don’t think either way (with people being fired or hired) social media should be a walk in the park. I think the main problem is that people still view this channel like an easily automated tool that requires little or no work load. And as soon as they realize that it is not, they start dreading it.

Sadly it is true that more and more people in pharma loose their job. But the answer is not to cut back on social media. Why would you cut out your most cost-effective marketing tool in times of tighter budgets. Doesn’t it make sense to lower the expenses in areas that are not so effective anymore?

For pharma “spending a lot of money on TV, which is providing less and less ROI and is more expensive every year, and a push website is the way to go.”

Clearly, the problems are bigger than the changes of Facebook commenting policies.

(Source: World of DTC Marketing)

Social Media – Obsessed With Numbers

It seems to me that when it comes to different social media platforms, we tend to focus only on how many people use these applications. And because this number is constantly changing, it gives bloggers, publishers, etc. something to keep writing about.

Bloomberg put together a report about how many American adults use Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Of course the emphasis was on the last one, since Google+ became the buzz word in social media this last month. So all of a sudden everyone is surprised how fast the number of users is rising. Well if you spend any time online, you are going to come across articles on the new platform on a daily basis. And not once, but a couple of times. It was actually interesting to see that Facebook (I’m sure) unintentionally became one of the biggest advertising sites for its competitor. With all the users posting status updates about their new Google+ accounts, the platform received tremendous hype.

This is why the report is able to show that already 13% of US adults signed up for a Google+ account, while Facebook is still used by 71% of adults online in the United States. The study also suggests, that Facebook will lose 2% of its users in the next year, while Google+ is going to reach 22% of US adults. First of all I think it is highly speculative to publish these kinds of rates one year in advance. Especially in the world of social media, where innovations and new applications can and usually do appear and gain users rapidly, and where they can be taken over by the next big thing just as fast. Secondly, I don’t think that Google+ growing more quickly than Facebook or MySpace did after being introduced is any indication of its larger popularity compared to the other sites. Google+ had a pattern, a model of features to follow that made it a lot easier to market it to people. How much simpler is to say “Oh, it’s kind of like Facebook, just cooler”, than to try to explain Facebook to users that never known anything like it before.

As I said before, it is better being careful saying anything too soon about shiny new things in social media. The high user rates and hype may calm down after the initial introduction and first phase of an application. The numbers show how many people use the platform, they don’t say anything about how they are using it. And that is what studies are usually missing. It doesn’t matter if people register on a new platform if they never visit it again. And actually, we see this trend already with Google+: 31% of its users created their profiles but never posted anything and didn’t stick with the application. Other than data like this, we need a deeper analysis on what people are doing on social media sites and how they are doing it, what kind of content they share, how frequently and how they engage with others online. These questions are clearly harder to answer, but doing so would be definitely more informative than publishing a bunch of ever-changing numbers.