As social media becomes a permanent fixture in patients’ lives and pharmaceutical companies’ business strategies, companies are turning to social media to advertise, inform, and recruit patients. However, there are still a number of mistakes pharmaceutical companies make when initiating social media recruitment efforts. I turned to Life Science Training Institute (LSTI) expert Carmen Gonzalez, communications project manager at Health Services Advisory Group (HSAG), for insights on the challenges pharma companies face when implementing a social media strategy, as well as the best practices companies can use to rise above these challenges.
ARWelch: Are there any oversights companies make when establishing a presence on social media?
Carmen Gonzalez: Creating a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) or guidelines is crucial to setting up ground rules that match your company's ethos. The benefit of having an SOP is that your company's training can follow that standard for on-boarding new employees, particularly team members dedicated to such online activities (e.g. marketing dept.). That's another oversight that is common in business. Some businesses assume that having a presence and experience with a particular social media platform constitutes expertise. Not so. Understanding the etiquette of the platform is important, but so are the corporate rules.
In the healthcare sphere, there are several organizations whose own guidelines serve as ready-made templates. Check out Vanderbilt University's social media policy:http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/root/vumc.php?site=socialmediatoolkit&doc=26923. The university has had a social media strategy for ages and was one of the first institutions to assemble a clear and easy-to-understand policy.
The next biggest oversight I have found is the lack of hard-nosed metrics applied to using social media. Businesses rely on costs and profits to determine success. That same common sense approach is needed to assess social media's fit for your organization. First, survey your audience as to whether it is using social media, and which platforms in particular. The crucial question you should ask is, if you create a platform, will they be willing to engage? Next, compare the social media success of a fellow competitor or similar enterprise to yours when establishing goals for your organization before jumping into the social media surf. Establish clear goals that are related to driving traffic to your site, obtaining referrals, boosting attendance at company conferences, etc. These ambitions should be tied to actual numbers, as your marketing on social media will need to be tied to those goals. Your progress will indicate if you need to alter your messaging.
Welch: What are 1 or 2 of the biggest stumbling blocks for companies currently looking to implement social media recruitment efforts?
Gonzalez: The biggest stumbling block is properly determining if social media is the appropriate outlet for their audience. What's the point of investing in social media if the people you are trying to reach aren't there? Undertake a survey of your prime audience. For example, if you are trying to reach people over the age of 65 who come to your organization for help or services, take the time to ask them if they would be inclined to use social media for the activities you have planned. If not, that's not an ideal communication channel. According to the Pew Research Center's Social Networking Fact Sheet this year, just 49 percent of adults over 65 on the Internet are using social media.
The second biggest mistake is not empowering your employees to extend your message far and wide. Give them the training and the support to advance your company's mission online.
Welch: What is the biggest con of social media recruitment, and is there anything that can be done to turn this con into a pro?
Gonzalez: Social media is not a silver bullet. People rely on a wide range of communication channels to get their information, so if you think social media will do it all, you've fallen for a con. Think of social media as part of your outreach mix for patient recruitment. Pilot it to see if there is traction, and only increase your reliance if there's justification (i.e. real positive metrics).
ARWelch: Which patient demographics/populations and indications have been most influenced through social media? Were there any surprises here?
Gonzalez: In the early days of social media, there were early positive results in HIV studies where dating sites were tapped for recruitment messaging — a precursor of using traditional social media for recruitment purposes. The big surprise for many of my colleagues was seeing how chronic disease studies (e.g. diabetes, COPD, etc.) could be more efficiently recruited when combining traditional media with social media technology, as with embedding text messages in print ads. This meant that in many cases older populations were comfortable texting, and that made it easier to pre-screen patients.
Given the heavy adoption of social media among younger populations across all races and ethnicities, I expect that healthy population studies will become easier to promote online in time. What we haven't found just yet is older, immigrant Latinos using social media for clinical enrollment opportunities. However, blacks and Latinos are using social media on mobile phones to a greater degree than whites. (This is also from Pew Research Center's Social Networking Fact Sheet,http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/). Accordingly, as we saw with texting and patient recruitment, I expect inroads in reaching minority audiences to be courted to a greater degree.
ARWelch: Is pharma currently tapping into social media’s full potential, or are there areas you feel would be particularly beneficial for recruitment?
Gonzalez: I haven't seen enough experimentation in exploring novel uses of social media. For example, obesity is categorically related to diabetes. Likewise, sedentary behaviors are linked to obesity. Wouldn't it be interesting to see a pilot campaign geared to gamers where study ads are featured on popular gaming sites? The preponderance of males on such sites could present a new source of patient volunteers, providing gender balance to clinical studies that may have relied on mostly women.
Also, once enough data is generated to confirm phone platform preference by age, gender, race, etc., it will be easier for pharma and other healthcare providers to be more selective when placing ads on social media sites. For example, Facebook allows ad buyers to specify the phone platform (iPhone or Android) upon which they want their ad shown. Micro-targeting of patient recruits cannot be far behind.
ARWelch: What challenges exist in measuring the performance of a social media campaign, and how have you seen companies rise to confront these challenges?
Gonzalez: For first-timers who have not established a presence online, the prospect of launching a successful recruitment program using social media is arduous. Typically, most companies need at least three to six months engaged in creating a following before thinking about recruitment. Once that is in place, having realistic goals becomes important. Let's assume that social media is part of the recruitment toolkit. Establishing a goal for social media should parallel that of a print campaign because they are comparable in terms of audience reach — at least for the newbie social media recruiter. If the cost per referral and per randomization from social media ends up being at parity with print, you have a viable recruitment method.
Any new social media campaign needs all the help it can get, so some pharma companies have taken the long-term view in developing relationships with patient advocates who are celebrities in their own right. These patient advocates have the trust of their patient community, serving as gatekeepers to their listeners. This is an excellent approach because the advocate tends to ask the right questions. Once convinced that a study is worthy of promotion, the advocate can spread the idea of study recruitment far and wide more effectively than the drug sponsor.
But don’t forget that social media marketing is SOCIAL, which means it has to be human — human connections, human stories, human emotions. At it’s most basic, the secret to social media success is HUMAN!
The secret to social media success
Data alone isn’t what makes the marketing needle move for business … True brand intelligence lives at the intersection of mind and heart
That quote from a recent HBR post about sums up the secret to social media success — blending the human elements with strong data analytics. Either one alone is much less powerful than the 2 together.
The graphic shows different types of marketing intelligence, both data-driven analytics and human-driven.
Now, some of you are reading this saying, “Duh, of course. We knew that. It’s not much of a secret.”
I can tell you you’re wrong. It is a BIG secret. Maybe a few examples will help.
After @Hannah Kramershared a great post about Creativity being more important for startup entrepreneurs than passion I wanted to weigh in and share related experience growing up with the right side of the brain being my dominant hemisphere (lol).
I share 5 ideas from the daughter of Gatorade's inventor:
* Creativity Bigger Predictor Than Intelligence. * Creativity Can Be A Hard Row To Hoe. * Creativity & Structure. * Creativity can be learned and taught. * Creativity happens at intersection of disciplines.
Great post hope my hard won experience contributes something helpful.
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