How Can Indian Pharma Marketers Make the Most of Social Media?

Over 150 million Indians were active on social media in 2016, a 23% rise over 2015.  With the number of internet users estimated to grow by a minimum of 50 million each year till 2020, social media will bear a much larger influence on people’s lives in the coming years.

Most Indian businesses are already leveraging the marketing prowess of blogs, web portals and online networking platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. The pharmaceutical sector too stands to benefit from an active social media presence.

Why ‘Social’izing Matters for Pharma?

Social media can be used in all aspects of business operations by pharma companies. It is a great channel for acquiring talent and increasing registry for clinical trials. It can also be employed for internal purposes to improve communication and knowledge flow across the organization. However, its largest gains are for Marketing and Public Relations. Here’s why:

  • Key stakeholders have gone digital – Pharma’s target audience, the patients and doctors are now accustomed to sourcing medical information from various online sources. Digital media are overcoming geographical barriers and enabling pharma marketers to communicate with a broad audience.
  • A powerful two-way communication channel – Presence on social media opens up huge opportunities for continuous, real-time engagement with potential consumers. Webinars and online CMEs are great tools for marketing to doctors. Product videos that showcase exactly how a drug battles disease inside the body may appeal to the patient community.
  • Bridging the communication gap – The interactive nature of social media makes it a great ‘listening’ tool. The likes and comments that posts attract are a treasure trove of insights into the audiences’ mindsets and pain points. Marketers can easily identify information gaps and take necessary actions to fill them. ‘Social media listening’ also paves the way for better segmentation and targeting.
  • Mode of ethical marketing – Latest news mentions that the Department of Pharmaceuticals is set to make the UCPMP code mandatory which means that Pharma needs to urgently explore marketing tactics that do not include giveaways and freebies or sponsored seminars and conferences. Social media is an ethical and more sustainable way of building a relationship with the medical community.
  • Competitive analysis/Market intelligence – Digitization provides data-backed insights to prevent misdirected marketing efforts. It enables reactive analysis vis-à-vis competitors. Social media analytics unravel the needs of a particular market segment, impact of new service delivery models on customers and much more. Data thus mined can be used to take major strategic decisions.
  • Crisis management – An Ernst & Young study on social media marketing trends in India noted that over half of Indian businesses used social media for reputation management. Drug recalls and legal spats put pharma companies in a negative light for patients as well as doctors. Social media platforms are great during times of crisis when damage-control is a matter of urgency. They can also help rebuild a company’s image post-crisis. Indian pharma’s tarnished reputation as a result of failed quality checks, sale of unapproved drugs and unethical marketing can be given a makeover by the smart use of social media.

There is no doubt that social media is a powerful channel for pharmaceutical marketing. The question is, “Are Indian drug manufacturers making the most of it?”. The following image outlines the social media presence of the top five pharma players in India (source: www.moneycontrol.com) as of 6th March 2017:

Social-Media-Table (1)

Less than half of Indian pharma giants are invested in online media. Most seem to have given up after dabbling with networking platforms for a while. Cipla has created ‘CiplaMed’ an online resource for medical professionals to keep themselves updated. However, the portal is yet to include interactive features like blogs and discussion forums. Only a few companies (e.g. Biocon) have an active blog page. Some others featured active blog pages on their websites in other countries but not in India.

It is evident that the Indian pharma industry is still on the fence when it comes to Social Media Marketing (SMM).

Key Barriers for Successful SMM in Indian Pharma

  • Regulations – Fear of legal issues is perhaps the biggest hurdle that stops pharma marketers from fully exploiting their social media presence. With SMM being a recent phenomenon, a lot of ambiguity revolves around what is permissible and what is barred and marketers are wary of violating compliance directives. In the US, FDA released its guidelines on social media use by pharma in June 2014. Indian laws ban DTC advertising of prescription drugs. Till legal bodies bring more clarity on marketing via digital media, pharma companies across the globe are practicing caution. However, well-planned digitization can, in fact, improve compliance and lower legal hassles by creating a traceable digital footprint.
  • Orthodox marketing outlook – Pharma marketers have been following the same marketing approach for the past 20 years, one which relies heavily on one-way communication between pharma and its consumers, be it, patients or doctors. Adapting to the highly interactive nature of online networks calls for the shedding of inhibitions and acceptance of all types of feedback. This cannot be done in isolation but needs to be imbibed as a part of a cultural shift initiated from the top. 
  • Challenges in aligning online marketing with offline activities – It is not uncommon to have the online and offline marketing teams in large organizations working independently of each other. It is tough to make the two channels work towards the same goal, yet, have customized campaigns that optimally exploit each channel. SMM is no longer restricted to posting occasional updates as an afterthought to offline campaigns. Rather it has grown to become a central hub through which a comprehensive marketing campaign is initiated. However, challenges such as unifying and sharing technology, customer data, resources and brand assets hinder seamless integration. Cross-media creativity also poses a problem.

Making the Most of Social Media

  • Work closely with the legal team – Social media presence often acts like a double-edged sword and a single wrong move could have far-reaching consequences, especially in pharma’s case. Every pharma company must appoint a social media compliance officer who can work in tandem with the corporate legal counsel. Social media content development may be decentralized only after ensuring that employees are trained on the ground rules with respect to regulations, style, tone and campaign objectives. 
  • Create a well-defined content strategy – Social media content has an important role to play in creating a lasting impression on the target market. When used wisely, this content can steer its readers through the various stages of the marketing funnel. It is therefore extremely essential to invest sufficient time and thought in devising a content plan that strikes a balance between marketing and educating the audience.

Patients and doctors are two very distinct audience groups of pharma marketers, each having their specific content needs.  While patients want to understand the disease, the treatment options and the prognosis, physicians are interested in medical innovations, research findings and advanced drug therapies. Pharma marketers should not only customize their content for these audience groups but also ensure its transparency, accuracy and impartiality. Moreover, they need to understand the strengths of each social media platform and choose the ones that are most suited to their needs.

  • Adopt an innovative engagement strategy – Given the restrictions on the kind of content that may be published on social media by pharma, marketers need to find alternative ways of connecting to their consumers. Creating patient communities and support groups, running disease awareness campaigns and offering tips on stress management and lifestyle changes are just some of the innovative ways to ensure audience engagement.

In our previous article titled ‘From Sellers to Enablers: The Changing Role of Pharma Medical Representatives’ we have stressed the need for pharma companies to reposition themselves as enablers of the best treatment decisions. As a part of this move, they need to portray an understanding of the doctors’ changing world – their needs and challenges. Here are examples of content that may appeal to the medical community –

Tips on time management
Healthcare policy updates
Medico-legal issues
Medical technology trends
Leisure-time reads
Stress-busting, rejuvenating activities (e.g. gaming apps)

  • Work towards building an image – Social media can be leveraged to create a well-rounded organizational image, something of utmost importance for pharma companies that have been grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons. Pictures of CSR initiatives, updates on philanthropic activities, quotes of employees taking pride in working towards saving people’s lives, industry recognitions and collaborations are examples of content that will create a positive impression and contribute indirectly towards marketing goals.
  • SMM should be strategic and long-term – Patience and perseverance is needed for SMM to deliver real value. Many a marketers have failed owing to a sporadic, haphazard social presence. Consistency in terms of frequency of interactions and the brand’s voice is crucial for building a long-term relationship with your audience. Top-level commitment to digital initiatives plays a critical role in inclusion of SMM as a part of the long-term growth strategy.
  • Choose exclusive communities for engaging with doctors – Secured social networks like Docplexus are the best way for pharma marketers to build long-lasting relationships with a large physician community. These neutral platforms lend marketers unbiased insights into doctors’ opinions about their products and information needs, something that proprietary apps may find difficult to attain. They also possess the expertise to devise the most appealing content format as per the marketing objectives and stage in the product’s lifecycle.

Docplexus’ innovative services have successfully fulfilled the diverse marketing needs (thought-leadership, better brand presence, product awareness, etc.) of renowned pharma players like Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Piramal Healthcare, Sanofi, Boehringer Ingelheim and USV Pharmaceuticals, among others.

To conclude, SMM holds great value for the Indian pharmaceutical sector. However, rather than treating digital media as a ‘nice-to-have’ element in the marketing mix, key decision makers need to take a ‘digital first’ approach. Forming clear policies on social media engagement, hiring experts in the field of digital regulation, and laying down processes for creating and employing digital assets are the stepping stones of Indian pharma’s SMM success.

How is your marketing team making effective use of social media?


Docplexus – Pharma’s Trusted Marketing Partner
Recommended Posts