Digital Shoreditch
Can Pharma And Healthcare Industry Thrill On Social?

“The next time you hear a social media myth, question it. Ask for the proof and ask out loud” – Dan Zarrella, The Social Media Scientist

Pharma – a highly regulated industry – has been notoriously slow at taking up social media. It’s not surprising when the rules for how they can and can’t use social media are prohibitively vague. But over the past few years the myth that pharma companies can’t use social media has been unravelled and conversations now focus on ‘how can pharma do social?’ This movement brings about unique challenges, but one thing is for certain – as more companies recognise the importance of social media it’s time for pharma to be brave and take their conversations to the next level.


What does being brave look like in pharma?

Bravery comes in many shapes and forms and what may be seen as basic social media practice in other industries can be courageous in the pharma industry. While brands like Innocent and Oreo are able to push boundaries by responding to online trends within a matter of seconds, or delivering distinctive and humorous content, pharma is somewhat conservative due to navigating regulatory rules. But this doesn’t mean that pharma companies should hold back – having a social media strategy is more important than ever in order to connect with audiences.

Back to basics

So how can pharma begin to stand out from the crowd? And what benefit will this bring? Firstly it’s important to get the basics right. By having online conversations and engaging appropriately instead of just pushing out content on social networks, companies can build trust and respect from their followers. Johnson & Johnson do this well by engaging with consumers, healthcare professionals and media consistently on their networks in a way that encourages followers to contribute to the conversation.

Another way that pharmaceutical businesses can participate in social media is to move fast when they receive comments online. To do this effectively all stakeholders need to be prepared and scenarios need to be planned for like Boehringer Ingelheim, who responds to comments quickly and effectively.

Pharma companies should also use platforms effectively and provide their audiences with informative and educational content. Bayer HealthCare provides followers with useful and relevant content,which means their content is shared far and wide.

Learning from non-profit health campaigns


For those companies who have already established a successful social media presence, it’s time to step it up a notch. This may take greater investment of time and energy but it doesn’t mean that pharma can’t be courageous.

Pharma can learn from campaigns by others in the healthcare space/arena, such as the Columbian League Against Cancer Tweets that spread out virtual cancer through Twitter and the recent Age UK No Friends that responded to Facebook’s “Friends” campaign with posters highlighting loneliness among older people.

These campaigns were successful because they were brave, emotive and raised awareness of important health issues – loneliness and cancer. By taking key learnings from these creative campaigns pharma can produce exciting content that really resonates with their audiences.

Strong foundations

The shift in social media involvement by pharma companies over the past few years to understand the benefits that it can bring is a good start, but pharma companies now need to ensure they are getting the basics right to form the foundations of their social media strategy. These strong foundations enable them to begin to stretch the limits and gain recognition for their efforts. Without this investment in a social future, the pharmaceutical industry is in danger of getting left behind.

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Rebecca Canvin is the Social Media Manager at Ogilvy Healthworld. Follow Becky on Twitter @BeckyCanvin. She is hosting a panel discussion at Digital Shoreditch festival, Thurs 11th May, 09:45, Shoreditch Town Hall: A little less conversation, a little more action please: How the health and pharma industry can digitally and socially satisfy audience needs. Follow @ogilvyUK for highlights of this event.

This story was originally published in The Drum

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