A roundup of ‘Social pharma faces’ 2012

Rebecca Aris


As the year draws to a close, Rebecca Aris provides an overview of what we’ve learnt this year from interviewing digital experts from the pharma and healthcare space in our ‘Social pharma faces’ series.

Throughout 2012 we’ve spoken with eight experts in the digital healthcare space as part of our ‘Social pharma faces’ series. These experts have offered a wealth of advice on using social media in pharma and the broader healthcare space. This article provides an overview of the series in 2012 and highlights the key common pieces of advice from these eight experts on digital in healthcare.

Common mistakes in social media use:-

1. Looking at social media in isolation

Too often social media is thought of – either by individuals or groups – as a silo’ed strategy that exists on its own, that it supplements everything else, but is not integrated with the rest of the marketing mix’, explained Shwen Gwee, VP, Digital Health at Edelman.

Social media should always be integrated in your normal thinking,’ was advice offered by Carl Engelmarc, Managing Partner at Refreshed Wellbeing Ltd. This was reiterated by Marc Monseau, Founder at MDM Communications when he stated that ‘social media in itself should not be set apart in isolation’. Marc added, ‘I recoil in horror when people start talking about setting up a ‘social media strategy’’.


“…users expect communication and messages to be targeted to their specific needs.”


2. Assuming that communication is one way

Another common mistake is assuming that communication via social media channels in a one-way stream. ‘Social media in itself is not just a venue for pushing messages,’ explained Marc. He added, ‘the success of using any of these platforms all depends on the willingness of the company to be able to interact, to converse and to be able to share information.’

Shwen explained that meaningful two-way engagement can alter the perception of a company. ‘It’s interesting to look at those that are engaging with followers in a meaningful way versus those that are just pushing news releases for example. Studies, including those by Whydotpharma, (led by CEO Silja Chouquet) have shown that the more a company actually engages the more it grows and is better perceived by an audience. So it really does make a difference as to how people perceive a company.’

Faisal Ahmed, Digital Strategist, thinks that pharma is guilty of using social media to send out its messages rather than to meaningfully engage – ‘as for pharma, it’s mainly being used for PR purposes right now, with a push message rather than interaction.’

3. Assuming that negative comments will be posted

Typically there is concern that ‘if we set up a Facebook page and we allow people to comment they’re going to say bad things about us and we can’t control that’. The reality of course is I’ve monitored hundreds of Facebook pages that hospitals have put up and the vast majority – 99.9% are neutral or positive.’ This was an important message from Edward Bennett one of FierceHealthcare’s ‘11 faces to follow in healthcare social media’ in 2011 and director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical Centre. The former fire juggler was clear in his interview that opening up social media channels doesn’t necessarily equate to bad messages being posted on your channel.

Common advice on social media use:-

1. Watch and listen before delving in

This piece of advice was given from almost all of our interviewees and was probably the most important piece of advice offered. Monitoring social media channels before engaging is clearly a must.

When questioned on what advice he would offer pharma on social media use, Edward Bennett said ‘the only advice I would offer is to be constantly monitoring what is being said about you.’ Edward also mentioned that it is useful in a crisis to know what is being said about you, ‘if you’re monitoring, then you at least have the opportunity to know what is being said and possibly being able to step in’.

And digital experts from within pharma are clearly aware of this key advice. ‘In terms of our social media strategy’, explained James Musick, Director, Social Media and Web Communications at Genentech, ‘one of the most important things is that we spent a considerable amount of time observing, analyzing and researching before jumping in to any particular channel’. He added, ‘I often use our example of Twitter, where we were aware of its emergence, but spent a good six months actually looking at analysis of what was going on in Twitter before jumping in’.

But what are the benefits of listening? Well, as Lee Aase, Director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, pointed out ‘listening to social media is a great way to get a much more genuine, authentic voice of the customer’. He added that ‘you may hear that they’re not talking about you, which is giving you a message too’.


“A social media policy is absolutely critical for any organisation!”


Listening will allow you to understand your audience and, as Marc Monseau pointed out, ‘the first step is really to understand the audience.’ A point backed up by Shwen Gwee when he said ‘for corporate Twitter accounts, you need to understand who your audience is and make sure that your tweets are going to be beneficial to them’. This brings us on nicely to our next piece of advice…

2. Tailor your messages to your audience and engage meaningfully

Understanding who your audience are and tailoring the messages appropriately was a popular piece of advice from our digital experts.

Carl Engelmarc summed this up when he explained that, ‘users expect communication and messages to be targeted to their specific needs.’

The single biggest mistake,’ according to Faisal Ahmed, ‘ is that people don’t think about the end user’. Faisal added that we need to avoid ‘ multimedia-mediocrity – let’s talk to people, let’s ask healthcare professionals, nurses and doctors what they really want from us digitally. Let’s embrace their ideas and feedback, because perhaps you would find that a product website might not be the best tool to educate a doctor about your drug!

Shwen Gwee summarised his thoughts in this area, ‘it really is understanding who your followers are, how to engage with them, and then actually trying, within guidelines, to engage with them in a meaningful way by creating value, by sharing the news they want and by pointing them to the right places for the resources they need.

3. Engage stakeholders early

Jim Lefevere, Director of Global Digital Marketing at Roche, explained that ‘’ to digital is still a ‘black box many people and spending time to make sure you involve and educate stakeholders is critical. Make sure people have a say and are bought in

Shwen Gwee reiterated this point: ‘the real key to launching it [the corporate Twitter account] was really including and educating the internal stakeholder early’.

If you take time to become close with your counterparts in legal and regulatory from the start’, explained James Musick, ‘you’re usually able to find a way where you can communicate or engage without breaching those regulations.

4. Implement a social media policy

Shwen Gwee commented on the importance of setting up policies and guidelines ahead of launching a company social media channel – ‘so that there isn’t as much confusion when it launches as to how to respond and what things you can or cannot do, as well as where or when you’re willing to engage and where you can’t.


“You have to be able to know what success will look like and be able to measure it’.”


This view was supported by Ed Bennett – ‘A social media policy is absolutely critical for any organisation…the policy is there to protect the organisation from any inappropriate behaviour that an employee may do that reflects badly on the organisation.’

Ed adds ‘it’s also there to give the staff guidelines on how we expect them to behave.’

What does the future look like in this space?

No one can predict what channels will emerge or estimate the uptake of newly emerging channels. ‘Pinterest for instance is a relatively new site that was one of the fastest to get to 10 million users in history. It’s something that I didn’t see coming’ stated Lee Aase.

However, Jim Lefevere believes that ‘there are some exciting technology changes underway (gamification, mobile, etc).’ He adds that he ‘would use data to support strategic planning around how to effectively reach your customer, and also make sure you include measurement in your planning. You have to be able to know what success will look like and be able to measure it’.

Increased social media adoption has been aided by ‘increasing smartphone usage’, explained Faisal. He went on to flag that ‘when 4G kicks in you’re going to have that seamless transition…your smartphone is going to be 10 times more powerful’. Faisal believes that 4G is key and that ‘the applications within a smartphone are going to really change how we market, how we advertise, and how we interact with people in the future’.

To view the full interviews click on the links below:-

Marc Monseau

Faisal Ahmed

James Musick

Carl Engelmarc

Shwen Gwee

Ed Bennett

Lee Aase

Jim Lefevere


About the author:

Rebecca Aris is Managing Editor of pharmaphorum, the primary facilitator of thought leadership and innovation for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion.

Rebecca was the first full time employee to join pharmaphorum, starting in her current role in mid-2010, and is responsible for coordinating all editorial content on the site. Prior to working at pharmaphorum she was a medical writer at a healthcare PR agency. In addition, she spent three years working as a commissioning editor on three journal titles at a biomedical publishing company. Rebecca holds a BSc (Hons) in pharmaceutical science.

For queries she can be reached through the site contact form or via Twitter @Rebecca_Aris.

What piece of advice from our social media experts do you think is the most important?