Outsiders may wonder why the pharmaceutical industry is largely absent from social media, which has quickly become one the most trusted sources of news and information.
The truth is that there is no one single answer, and the companies themselves are only partly responsible. So who and what are to blame?
Heavy regulations within the pharmaceutical industry greatly impacts the use of social media.
Consider the potential use of social media for reporting side effects: pharmaceutical companies are required to report these to authorities within twenty-four hours of notification. This would basically mean that each site with social media properties would be needed to be monitor 24/7.
Furthermore, the materials directed toward healthcare professionals are typically protected by a registration system. Each extra step involved with accessing the content is a major drawback for any service operating in an environment where attention spans are constantly shrinking.
The pharmaceutical industry is also strictly prohibited from delivering any information that might be considered as off-label use of medicinal products. This might significantly restrict what could be communicated through pharma’s own channels, despite the fact that the information might be highly relevant medically.
The web is rife with medical information. Why should healthcare professionals or the general public rely on materials provided by the big bad pharma industry, which has nothing but profits in mind?
The fact is, the pharmaceutical industry is almost as focused on medical communication as it on finding new medicines. The companies are filled with intelligent, well-trained people who know how to elucidate complex medical issues.
However, the industry is still largely lacking the credibility as real partner for medical professionals or patients. This will change, but it will take time and effort from the industry.
Pharma companies are giants with long traditions of doing things a particular way. Also, they are certainly not free from bureaucracy. Despite an abundance of smart and capable people, pharma culture is absent of support for innovation – which contrasts greatly with the risk-taking and big-idea approach of start-ups.
Who should be in charge of creating digital media? Is it the product manager, scientific advisor or communications department? Where does one find people who understand both the needs and environment of the pharma industry as well as the latest developments in modern social media?
Hiring a digital media agency without industry experience is rarely a good choice. Rather, the industry needs to integrate these experts into their divisions in order to achieve long-term results, create consistent messaging, and to chart the overall evolution of both digital media the changes within the pharmaceutical and health care industries.
For a long time pharma’s approach has relied on traditional websites, but the ambition needs to be much grander if you want to win the hearts of target audiences. Mobile technology is completely altering how we use the internet, and the means of presenting information is nearly as important as the content itself. Companies need to invest heavily in User Interface Design and User Interface Experience, which are challenges that require radically out-of-the-box thinking and clever outcomes.
Digital content itself needs to be updated all the time. The only way to earn repeat visitors is by consistently providing high-quality content, which is the only true value for users. Companies must do much more than simply produce some leaflets and visual aids two times a year.
Having a strong in-house media division of one’s own is certainly a strong asset for your business. (Just ask Red Bull!) But whenever that’s not feasible, seek out outside experts who have both industry expertise and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit and thirst for innovation.