- Category: Management
- Published on Thursday, 22 November 2012 19:49
B Sriram, Executive Director– Healthcare, Direxions Marketing Solutions, advises Indian pharma to deploy social media for marketing
Social media is the new and definitive industry buzzword. According to the Neilson Social Media Report (2011) social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and blogs are the top online destinations in each country, accounting for the majority of time spent online and reaching at least 60 per cent of active Internet users. It’s hardly surprising therefore that industries from banking to retail are tapping the social media to initiate new marketing strategies and engage the target audience but the pharmaceutical industry seems to have gotten off to a comparatively slow start. It is mostly American and multinational pharma companies who are making their presence felt on social media for instance, Bayer’s Aspirin has a Facebook page for women; YouTube has hosted promotional videos such as GlaxoSmithKline’s Restless-Legs awareness film; Reckitt Benckiser has used MySpace to distribute advice on kicking the prescription painkiller habit and Pfizer has a Chantix Support Group on drug.com, for tobacco patch users who are trying to quit smoking.
In this article, I’d like to explore the potential of Indian pharma companies to embrace social media tools and leverage the social media landscape of India.
Why social media looks promising
A report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India expects the Internet subscriber base in India to reach 150 million by end 2012, with active users recording a growth of 19 per cent. There has also been a huge spike in the frequency of Internet usage, from a mere 28 per cent of users accessing the net daily in 2011 to 54 per cent doing so in 2012. Facebook itself has reported that it has 50 million plus active monthly users from India alone, as of July 2012. The Bupa Health Plus Survey 2011 reports that 90 per cent of all Internet users in India search for health-related information with around 70 per cent searching for specific medicine related information. This shows that healthcare and especially pharma companies do have a potentially large ‘online’ market that they can leverage using social media tools. There are several benefits of resorting to social media tools, the first being, that such tools have a wide reach, are interactive and at the same time are very cost-effective compared to offline advertising. Secondly, with so many Internet users interested in health-related information, there is a lot of ‘patient-generated’ content available. This includes patient feedback, sharing of experiences etc. Companies, therefore, stand to gain invaluable customer/ patient feedback by just listening in on conversations conducted by patients on social networking websites and contributing wherever applicable.
There can also be a two-way interaction, with the company appointing personnel to answer queries posted by customers online or provide information about research on new drugs. Such a strategy not only keeps customers engaged, but also lends a personal touch to the website, as they interact with the same set of company representatives. Some MNCs are currently using such a strategy.
Sanofi has proved to be one among early entrants by utilising the social media landscape in India for its brand of flu vaccine. They created the ‘Mothers against Flu’ campaign, where they targeted ‘DigiMoms’ or mothers who regularly access social networking sites. This helped them identify and build a target community for their flu vaccine. They launched the campaign on Facebook and through this page, organised a number of polls, quizzes, discussions centred on the topic of common flu and flu vaccines. The campaign has generated more than 12,000 likes to date, with more than 3,000 in the first month itself.
Some companies have adopted a very innovative strategy of supporting unbranded websites, such as iwalkbecause.org etc. The content on such websites is mostly patient generated, allowing the company to gather vital information about the patients’ experiences. At the same time, a link which directs users to the company’s branded website serves the twin purpose of facilitating a quick market research and fostering relationship with patients’ groups.
Thirdly, social media provides companies with a very novel way of fulfilling their corporate social responsibility. They can educate the community about health issues/awareness and treatment. For example, Eli Lilly & Company in 2011 launched their ‘Lilly Health Channel’ on YouTube featuring videos on health and wellness, employees and more. Despite so many advantages, why has the pharma industry been reluctant to embrace social media on a larger scale?
Few regulatory guidelines exist on how companies (in most countries across the globe, including the US, Europe and of course, India) should use social media for creating disease/brand awareness. Companies still seem cagey about what information to share with different target groups such as patients, physicians and the media. Providing adequate and accurate information is also an onus that rests with the company. With companies fearing the backlash of governing bodies, they are resorting to very limited usage of social media tools.
Also, the wide reach that social media provides could be a potential double-edged sword. If there is a positive customer feedback, millions get to know, but if there is a negative feedback, they still get to know! This makes it possible for even rivals to deliberately post adverse comments and misinform customers. This fear of libel and defamation keeps several companies from adopting social media in a big way.
With the lack of stringent regulations, it becomes difficult for companies to instill faith and confidence in customers that the information being provided to them is honest and accurate is being done with an intention to inform and not promote their own brands. Further, unlike the West, there are very few ‘patient communities’ that are active in India. These communities usually offer user-generated data that companies can use and monitor to gain valuable insights about their target audience.
Another issue which needs to be addressed is relevancy and recency of information on a social media site. In order to have continued and increased traction amongst user/viewers, both these issues are very important. One envisages a time when pharma companies might have full fledged teams to oversee social media content.
Lastly and most importantly how and what should the measurement metrics be to evaluate the success or failure of using this media. Is it the total number of hits? Should it be repeat visits? Data analytics will play a critical role in ensuring objectivity to these measurement metrics.
The way ahead
Statistics over the years by various surveys and reports confirm that social media is here to stay. Internet users are growing exponentially all across the globe, including India. In general, patients and providers are becoming more empowered on the Internet. They are willing to interact with a pharma company using this channel if they believe it’s to their benefit and that they can trust the company.
The first step then is obviously to get the governing bodies in India to formulate some guidelines regarding the content that pharma companies can share, information that must be provided etc. But in the meanwhile, companies self-regulate and put in place some of their own guidelines on how to use the social media. They outline the role and responsibilities of employees with respect to use of social media and train them on the dos and don’ts of the same. User-generated content from patients and providers needs to be secured, retrieved, analysed and maintained in a regulatory controlled manner. Companies should then marry the insights gained from their audience to their marketing strategy.
While there is a lot that is left to be learnt and much to be experimented upon, the time for pharma companies to participate in the technology revolution and adopt social media is definitely NOW!
The views expressed in this article are personal. The author can be contacted at email@example.com