Fear of Social Media

Companies are only one or two incidents away from a crippling catastrophe. Various public customer service disasters, especially those caught on film, have led to people airing their grievances over social media, costing companies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost stocks and share values, and compensation and settlement fees. Pharma companies fear social media. High profile cases of individuals in companies engaging in unethical and criminal behaviour have had a hugely negative impact on how we are perceived. This negative impact is heightened by some in mainstream media and critics of our industry who have an axe to grind. For example, some have been led to believe that many of the world’s diseases are curable, but that we are holding back from releasing those cures because we want to profiteer from those afflicted. Indeed, cases of profiteering on drugs haven’t helped our cause1. But what has hurt us further is the severe lack of acknowledgement and acceptance of our faux pas, and almost zero engagement, especially over social media. Beyond press releases, this lack of engagement with various stakeholders – from the public to healthcare professionals, and most importantly, patients – continues to damage our reputation because it makes us look guilty, like we have something to hide.

A Lack of Engagement

Social media is the biggest digital marketing platform available. Harnessing its fullest potential hasn’t happened in our industry… yet! There are some pharma companies such as Johnson and Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novo Nordisk, who are active across the main social media platforms, and have many followers who have “liked”, “commented” on and “shared” or ”retweeted” their posts. But engagement has been limited, meaning that we must take the lead from giants from other industries and companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Nike. A quick Google search of the best corporate brand engagement will bring up these and other companies who have engaged phenomenally well with customers. Although people only need medicines when there is a medical need (although vaccines are pre-emptive), there is nothing stopping pharma creating a tribe, a peer support group helping to empower those afflicted with various indications in the same or similar way as the aforementioned companies, amongst others.

Volume and Direction of Flow

Pharma companies are active across social media networks, with a preference for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube2. Companies are producing more video content, engaging more over Facebook, and paying for content promotion over Facebook. Since 2013, the average number of tweets by pharma companies has increased by 530%.3, and top industry players have increased their Twitter followers by nearly 300%3.

However, the pharmaceutical industry has yet to recognise the full potential of social media. Currently, leaders are far behind what is happening in the rest of society. Pharma companies are producing less content overall, replying to fewer tweets than ever, and over‑the‑counter (OTC) brand profiles are decreasing2. Data shows that most of pharma’s communication is outbound, with little efforts made for inbound communications2.

Creating an interest in a particular therapeutic area, or the company brand, or how the company has benefitted society, for example, will create dialogue, build empathy, trust and inevitably improve sales, either directly or indirectly, because familiarity is everything. Additionally, paying attention to what audiences will and will not interact with is key. One study reported that posts with a link to external sources were the most frequently shared and that although disease awareness information was the most common theme communicated, audiences preferred to interact with other themes3.

Next Steps

If you would like to learn more about how we can help reorganise your social media work better for you, please do get in touch!


  1. Pollack, A. Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight. The New York Times (2015).
  2. Unmetric. Social Media Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry. Unmetric Available at: https://unmetric.com/pharma-social-media-trends-report.
  3. Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide. Connecting The Dots: Which pharma companies are succeeding in the social media space: https://www.slideshare.net/OgilvyCommonHealth/connecting-the-dots-47203629.
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