Digital health perspectives: Serkan Erkovan

Serkan Erkovan shares his thoughts on digital within pharma in our latest ‘digital health perspective’ interview with pharmaphorum’s Rebecca Aris.

Serkan Erkovan is the co-founder and former social media team lead at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). He regularly speaks at events on the topics of social media, digital marketing within pharma. He is currently working on setting up digital channels for stakeholders.

Serkan is the latest interviewee in our ‘digital health perspectives’ series and offers here his views on digital within pharma.

His thoughts on social media, mobile marketing and gamification can be found on Slideshare here and his digital views can be found on Twitter here.

Interview summary

RA: You’ve spoken before about how pharma need to adapt to pharma 3.0, can you explain what you mean by this?

SE: Sure. Actually all new trends and initiatives are a sub set of Pharma 3.0. Pharma companies need to have different tools in the evolving market and this leads them to find new ways of communication with health care professionals.

Since technology is evolving, companies should take into account that speed and usability are the major bullets in their communication strategy.

Speed is the indispensable component in communication platform, while considering that sales rep has a limited time frame in physician’s office.

“Social media is about engagement. It is about listening.”


One of the key messages about speed from my experience would be that you need to keep your content offline (as well as online) on your mobile device.

In other words; reps needs to switch to different content without losing time, in the case of internet connection speed being low or the connection lost.

Browser based web applications should be replaced with mobile applications, in order to make use of fast browsing and the increased speed of information access.

In many surveys, it’s obvious that, physicians prefer usability. They have limited time for their rep interactions and this speedy functionality will make their life easier.

While designing communication platforms, marketing teams have to make sure that they establish clear goals and focus on them with key messages.

“Social media is a long learning process.”


RA: How can pharma companies keep abreast of technological advancements that will impact their social media strategy, and why is it so important to do so?

SE: Today being aligned with technological advancements is totally another topic. When you create a mobile or a social media app / platform, you need to track all OS versions in all platforms for the sake of compatibility issues. You need to have few active users / opinion leaders who are really following these new enhancements and giving updates to get you ready for the new releases before you make you users unhappy.

I love the quote by Stephen Hawking, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” Technological advancements will continue changing our way of adapting our strategies – the main thing we should not forget is that we, as healthcare providers, have to focus on the humanity, with another buzz word: “engagement”.

Social media is about engagement. It is about listening. The first thing you should do is listen to your target audience and understand the expectations. That will lead you to understand which technological advancements and tools might fit into your engagement strategy.

RA: What have you learnt from your involvement in the social media channels at BI?

SE: Social media is a long learning process. It’s a culture of being professional in your private social media accounts; it’s a way of reflecting your company’s code of conduct to a virtual environment. It’s all the same story, the only difference is social media is not physically present, it’s a virtual reflection of your real professional / private life.

1. Start the engine. First thing you need to do is to start with a digitally savvy group of people in the company, where you’ll have brilliant and ideas.

2. Be “regulatory aligned”. Your brilliant ideas and contents should be aligned with your local authority.

3. Be wise. Publish your rules of engagement and don’t disappoint your followers with high expectations.

4. Allocate resources. You will need someone inside or outside who will take care of this communication channel.

5. Grow Ambassadors. Increase your engagement level with your nice-sweet-fantastic social media addicted colleagues.

6. Keep it Simple. Identify simple rules / guidelines to ensure that social media is governed by the company.

7. ROIs & KPIs. Since there’s no ultimate way of calculating your return on social media investment, try to define KPIs for active engagement.

“Since there’s no ultimate way of calculating your return on social media investment, try to define KPIs for active engagement.”

RA: Finally, where do you see pharma heading with respect to social media?

SE: Many corporations and global brands have found adopting social media a challenge. Most have turned a blind eye often sitting the excuse “there’s too much regulation around the industry to get involved”. It’s a very well-known fact that pharma companies have been too slow to manage their social media engagement strategies effectively, compared to other industries. And it’s again clear that companies that know how to start the media dialogue through social media will gain market share.

Pharma marketers will first need to adapt this rapidly changing environment and rethink the investment share of three Must-Have investment lines: social media, content marketing, and mobile.

Pharma needs to increase interaction with its target audience and all stakeholders, that is the key to success. Social media is more than a Facebook page or twitter account; you need an integrated social media strategy undertaken by digitally-savvy team members who can adapt to changes. 



About the interviewee:

Serkan entered the pharma industry with Boehringer Ingelheim in 2003 and successfully held cross functional roles. During his business consultancy time; he supported digital marketing, stakeholder & KOL management and CRM processes for Prescription Medicine and Consumer Health Care (OTC). He’s the founder and former social media team lead.

Serkan moved to Animal Health Marketing as Product Manager in 2012, to manage the group of Livestock Products & Vaccines.

Serkan holds an MBA degree from Kadir Has University and Business Informatics in German degree from Marmara University.

He’s a regular speaker in international pharma events. He’s been invited to local and global conferences about sales & marketing and social media as a speaker; like “Social Media in Pharma Summit in Istanbul and Eyeforpharma Sales & Marketing Excellence Conference in Barcelona.

He likes travelling around the world, taking photos, meeting new people and sharing ideas.

He can be found on LinkedIn here.

How can pharma companies keep abreast of technological advancements that will impact their social media strategy?