As of July 2020, the number of global internet users has grown to 4.8 billion, which is more than half the world’s population. At the same time, digital advertising in pharma is expected to increase to a projected $10 billion for the year. This is because consumers are spending more time engaging with health content than content from any other industry, including news, finance, and travel—and are using social media to find it.
A study by WEGO Health shows that amongst “patient influencers,” 92% follow a health-related advocacy organization, 48% follow a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, clinic, or hospital, and 70% visit patient groups on social media (versus 3% that visit a pharma website) to get information.
This is great news for a highly regulated industry—one that has tended to shy away from using the web to communicate with its consumers and those seeking information about medications and therapies. It also means there is an opportunity to reach a percentage of the global internet users who are using a keyboard to find information that will provide insight into what they or their family or friends are experiencing.
Of course, online communications also come with risks that, if left unattended, can seriously harm your pharma marketing efforts.
What It Means for Pharma to Be Safe and Compliant In Social Media
Before you consider your opportunities and risks, it’s important to understand what it means to be safe and compliant when using the web, particularly social media, in the pharmaceutical sector.
You already know that everything you do online must comply with FDA, EMA, and HIPPA regulations. This means if you come across something in your data collection or social media listening, you have a responsibility to report it as required.
It also means if you stumble across something that has personal health information of an online visitor to your online assets, you must remove that content and adhere to HIPAA regulations.
While you’re listening and monitoring and staying within regulations, Adverse Events and Medical Device Reports must be detected in search results and then reported to your pharmacovigilance or drug safety team.
It’s a lot to consider—and enough to make just about anyone avoid online communications.
Three Ways to Safely and Confidently Participate Online
Not to say you should avoid the opportunities social media brings. On the contrary! But you should have a process that allows you to gather patient insights without risking a fine, facing the shutdown of your marketing activities, or going through a highly-scrutinized internal pharmacovigilance audit.
Here are our top three tips to safely and confidently participate online:
Craft a plan. As with anything else you do, a plan will help to keep you on track, and can be used as a single source of knowledge where you can define your social listening strategy and outline your online participation processes. Your plan should include how you intend to collaborate with your pharmacovigilance or drug safety team, as well as any key stakeholders who may need to be involved in the process. These should be individuals or teams who may also want to gather insight from the data you're collecting, or who are best equipped to handle any worst-case scenarios that might arise. This plan will help guide your social listening and online communications efforts.
Start with social listening. After your plan is crafted and you have your teams in place, you can begin with social listening. First decide the areas you want to focus on—such as your brand or product names, competitors or key industry risks—and build your listening around these. The more keywords and phrases you monitor, the more data you’ll collect. This is why collaboration with your pharmacovigilance or drug safety team is so imperative.
Remember compliance is key. Unsurprisingly, within the pharmaceutical industry, the most important consideration when carrying out any activity online is to ensure you remain compliant. Depending on the resources you have available, this could entail partnering with another company, which can perform social listening Adverse Events compliance on your behalf. A partner like this can give the pharmacovigilance or drug safety team peace of mind, and you and your marketing team the confidence to gather patient insights. Choose one that offers a guarantee on the level of Adverse Event detection. Many will claim accuracy, but delivering against a firm promise is the hard part.
Alternatively, your brand could decide to keep monitoring in-house, either via the marketing team or a partner agency. Whichever route you take, it is vital to ensure you have a well-trained, empowered team of people reviewing the data to identify any suspect safety information.
No matter how daunting this may seem, it can be managed. There is a wealth of information and open discussions taking place about your brand online. Take part in those conversations by following the steps above and have confidence in marketing online.