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Healthy Connections: Pharma Needs a Dose of Digital Media


The online world is dominated by connectivity, dialogue and social networking. But why isn’t the pharmaceutical industry getting on board?

A few weeks ago in Helsinki, the Digitalist Future Media forum gathered together speakers from fields such as marketing, PR, communications and advertising to discuss the effects of the digital revolution on their fields. The speakers were unanimous in one thing: influencing people’s decisions can no longer depend solely on a monologue. Instead, modern communication is forcing companies to get involved in discussions and pursue direct and ongoing dialogue with its customers.

The digital revolution has indeed affected the ways pharma companies shouldcommunicate, but how much has the industry actually changed?

Astonishingly little, according to both the Future Media forum speakers and to TEKES, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. A recent TEKES survey reveals that only 16% of industrial companies in Finland utilize social media in any form. And the pharmaceutical industry, both in Finland and globally, represents one of the industries least engaging in the newest forms of communication.

So why are sectors like pharma so slow to adopt to the new communication channels?

Pharmaceutical companies offer various reasons for their digital absence. Last March, Tero Ylisaukko-oja listed some of these reasons, which vary from the heavy regulations and bureaucracy to the long tradition of “doing things in a certain way.” And, of course, pharmaceutical companies have their reputations to preserve. The world of social media is full of malicious rumors, which cause new and difficult-to-manage reputational risks on a daily basis. Thus, staying out of the digital world seems like a much safer option.

Yes, social media provides pharma with challenges and possible pitfalls. But there is more than that. Finnish communications consultant Kirsi Piha encourages companies to broaden their views and for once, swap out risk analysis with a bit of social opportunism.

Here are five valuable opportunities social media offers pharma:

  1. Learning about yourself and others. Monitoring social media will give you valuable information regarding the general opinion about your brand, and how you should develop it. You’ll learn a lot about your competitors, as well as the unmet medical needs of your (potential) clients – which leads us to the next point.
  1. Serving your customers better. Too often social media is viewed as simply a cheap way of directly promoting your product. In truth it’s the ideal tool for providing customers with truly valuable information. Your clients – both doctors and patients – will search for information on the conditions and medications they’re dealing with. It’s up to you whether they can easily access the newest information you provide, or if they’d rather resort to Wikipedia and less-reliable sources.
  1. Reputation management.Instead of trying to preserve what is likely just an illusion of reputation or settling with disrepute commonly associated with pharma companies, social media offers new means for active reputation development. Take the opportunity to demonstrate examples of the responsible actions you’re taking – clinical research on rare diseases, charity work or employing young people. As an example, see GSK’s Facebook page with its nearly 130,000 likes.
  1. Risk management & problem resolution.Surprisingly many pharma companies still seem to think that staying unattainable in their ivory towers would keep them out of unpleasant situations. However, social media engages public discussion on nearly any topic. Not reacting at all is the worst way to react, as demonstrated by the case of K-V Pharmaceuticals.
  1. Expert relation management. Besides customer connections, social media offers you a way to communicate with other professionals in your field. LinkedIn also connects you with an extensive pool of talents required for your company – present yourself well and they will want to work for you, interact with you, and promote your brand.


To get it right from the beginning, plan what you’re doing and define what you want to achieve. You can (and should) start small—being active on one platform is better than being inactive on many. For optimal results, utilize expert help for content creation and to make sure everything goes according to regulations.

The digital transformation has roped pharma into a situation in which dialogue with its customers is all but inevitable. Instead of trying to sidestep the conversation, how about not only joining it, but turn it into an opportunity for learning and growth?



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