Ignore Social Media and Put Your Healthcare Brand at Risk

In the 14 years since Facebook launched, social media has become an undeniable part of everyday life for most people. Today, 77% of people access social media in one form or another. And yet, healthcare marketers are seen as lagging behind marketers in other industries when it comes to using social media.

Ogilvy Healthworld counters this perception in its latest Social Check-up report which characterizes pharma’s social media strategies as growing up and working better.

Being in a regulated industry, healthcare marketers face unique challenges when it comes to social media and managing their brands. But so much healthcare-related communication happens on social media these days that healthcare companies can no longer afford to ignore social media. To do so puts their brands at risk.


Social media, it’s where people are looking for health info

With a sizeable 42% of people saying that the info they find on social media influences how they cope with a chronic condition or approach diet and exercise, it’s apparent that when it comes to brand awareness in healthcare, social media simply cannot be ignored.

Social media is influencing the health decisions people make – Source


It’s not just patients who are referring to social media for health info. An astounding 88% of physicians use the Internet and social media to research pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical devices.

Without active social media engagement, healthcare marketers leave their brands vulnerable. At best, their brands will go unnoticed as gaping holes are left in the information easily available to providers, patients, and caregivers. At worst, their brands will be undermined by challenges that go unanswered.


Social media, it’s where brands are built

While the fundamentals of brand building remain the same, social media provides meaningful audience touchpoints for creating brand experience and raising brand awareness.

Social media supports brand building efforts through engagement with your audience – Source


In building brand awareness, healthcare marketers want their brand to be seen as trustworthy, remarkable, essential, and unmistakable. Social media channels provide opportunities to do this in a timely manner by engaging directly with their audiences.

Social media provides these three clear mechanisms to connect with audiences and build brand awareness:

  • Build a relationship with your target audiences
  • Differentiate your brand through an emotional connection
  • Nurture loyal fans


Start a relationship and correct a negative brand image

For all the fears that surround social media and how it can, potentially, undermine brands, one pharma company recently demonstrated how to stop a brand from being hijacked with a timely and well-considered social media response.

In apologizing for posting a racist tweet, Roseanne Barr blamed her bad behavior on being under the influence of Ambien, a sleep aid.

Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, faced a choice. Should they respond and risk damaging their brand further? Or should they take their chances with others’ responses in social media and ride out the (potential) tweet storm?

Sanofi responded quickly in a very direct manner, tweeting:

“People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

With a well-considered and timely response Sanofi avoided having its brand hijacked in social media – Source


There was some debate about whether Sanofi did the right thing. Some found Sanofi’s response very risky and suggested it would have been better to remain quiet. Others went so far as to say Sanofi provided companies with a playbook for dealing with online trolls.

In the end, Sanofi’s tweet received some measure of approval in the form of 68,800 retweets and 186,000 accounts liking it.


Differentiate your brand by bonding with the caregiver

Beyond raising awareness and educating the audience, social media offers healthcare unique and effective opportunities to build a bond between their brand and caregivers.

Alimera Sciences’ campaign to promote Iluvien, a drug used to treat diabetic macular edema (DME), paid particular attention to the daily life of caregivers. In addition to explaining what DME is and how its drug can help, Alimera shared info on simple things caregivers can do to help better manage life with vision loss.

Alimera took the time to address some of the daily challenges patients and caregivers face and offered solutions beyond their drug. In this way, it differentiated itself and built a direct, emotional bond with patients and caregivers.

Through social media brands, build bonds with patients and caregivers by sharing information that improves the quality of their daily life – Source


Alimera Sciences decided to use an integrated social media campaign, engaging on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. In making this decision, its senior marketing manager acknowledged that social media is “simply where the audience is today.”

In addition to promoting Iluvien, Alimera Sciences needed to raise awareness and educate their audiences about DME. The combination of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube gave the brand the channels to reach medical professionals, patients, and caregivers with complex, regulatory-compliant educational content.

Additionally, Alimera Sciences decided to use social media to directly answer questions from patients and caregivers. Because of its regulatory environment, healthcare often sees this as a risky tactic and one to be avoided. In order to remain regulatorily compliant, the team at Alimera Sciences prepared a response protocol in advance of the campaign launch. They composed pre-approved answers to the most likely questions. With this preparation, the social media team was able to respond quickly to questions that came up in a way that still felt lively and human, and capitalized on the real time nature of social media.


Nurture your brand’s fan base with info they find useful

Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials blog is a brand awareness powerhouse. With over 4 million monthly visitors, it’s among the most visited healthcare websites in the US.

Cleveland Clinic built this audience by providing content that is relevant to the patient’s and caregiver’s needs and interests. Instead of focusing on medical procedures or how the clinic is organized, readers find articles about such topics as children’s health, sleep, and wellness.

By taking the long view social media can be used as an effective tool for building brand awareness – Source


Not satisfied with simply publishing a lot of content, the social media team at Cleveland Clinic aims to produce impactful content that answers people’s questions.

The social media team partners with medical experts on staff who contribute, review, and sign off on content. This practice has resulted in all content having a high degree of credibility with the audience.

The social media team also tests their content and content creation process for reach and impact. As a result, they have developed a reliable formula for writing content and optimizing when and where it is shared. And, when the formula no longer works, the team is well-positioned to notice and respond quickly with new practices that maintain audience engagement.

Cleveland Clinic coordinates its social media activity across several platforms to drive engagement. A tweet or Facebook post will point the reader to the Health Essentials blog. Videos on YouTube provide viewers an opportunity to hear directly from clinical leaders with ask-an-expert and video chat series.

With its deep catalog of evergreen content, the social media team can often respond to news and events by bringing attention to content it has already published. For example, when a celebrity shares their diagnosis publicly, content that explains that particular condition is highlighted in social media, drawing readers to their site once again.

By focusing on the needs of their audiences and consistently publishing quality content, Cleveland Clinic’s brand has become synonymous with a trusted source for healthcare thought leadership.


Social media is to be engaged in, not ignored

Despite healthcare’s need to manage regulatory and patient privacy concerns on social media, healthcare marketers must engage with social media for the sake of their brands. To ignore social media is to ignore all the people who look to it for guidance in making health decisions. The result is to undermine the health of your brand and, potentially, the health of your company.


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