A huge untapped opportunity for pharma marketing: Social media engagement with doctors

It’s an interesting paradox. On one hand, the biopharma industry embodies unfettered scientific creativity and future-forward, cutting-edge innovation. Yet, it lags every other major industry with respect to digital advertising, and has very little social media engagement with one of its core audiences—physicians.

This is a particularly egregious missed opportunity as physicians are engaged heavily with third-party health content providers. According to a recent report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 50% of physicians are engaging in social media through various mHealth (mobile health) channels and social platforms, such as Medscape, Epocrates, and Sermo. This year, mHealth revenues are projected to be $6.35 billion, with projections of $26.56 billion by 2017.

The trust issue

By contrast, pharma is hardly in the social media game at all, with very little physician engagement on existing pharma-based platforms.

Why such a disparity? The main reason is a lack of trust among physicians—75% of surveyed physicians don’t trust the information provided by pharma. And yet these same doctors are flocking in droves to third-party platforms, with 63% of all physicians connected to Medscape as a source of professional information, as well as Epocrates (57%) and Sermo (56%).

Where traditional marketing meets social media marketing

In many ways, communication between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare providers (HCPs) is mired in 20th century methods. In fact, 67% of pharma materials are delivered to physicians via traditional channels, including sales reps, MSLs, direct mail, publications, speaker programs, ad boards, and other tried-and-true approaches.

And there's some compelling rationale to this. The nature of the pharma industry lends itself to face-to-face (F2F) communication between physicians and reps. In addition, although the FDA has clarified many of the issues surrounding industry use of social media platforms, uncertainty lingers and the specter of regulatory oversight influences every interaction.

Traditional approaches, particularly F2F interactions between reps and physicians, have value and are a critical and necessary part of discussing many aspects of healthcare and various therapies. However, adding social to the mix would provide opportunities for greater physician engagement, while responding to an unmet demand. Case in point: 65% of physicians have expressed interest in engaging with pharma via social media for clinical data.

What’s the best way in?

One strategy proposed by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions is for pharma companies to partner with established mHealth platforms to leverage the established communities and trust that these third-party providers have built.

And what specifically do physicians want in this setting? What type of value-add can pharma bring to social media? Based on survey results, physicians are interested in gaining access to general clinical information, including clinical trial data and information about side effects and adverse events. They are also interested in getting information on new drugs, as well as information on potential future studies for existing therapies and emerging pharmaceutical candidates.

Pharma companies have refined and perfected traditional communication methods with significant success over the years. But adding more robust social media engagement with physicians promises to be a win-win-win situation across the board for pharma companies, physicians, and third-party providers.

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