How does global PR get local in social media?

Ed Purkis


Ed Purkis explores how social media is influencing global PR strategies and what the concept means for healthcare communications.

We live in an increasingly globalised world and healthcare communications is no exception. More than any other year, 2012 saw a significant shift in marketing budgets and global PR programmes have become increasingly dominant. Simultaneously, technology has irreversibly reshaped our cultural norms and social media is a core part of this. So how has healthcare communications responded in recent years and how will it continue to adapt? Is global social media marketing a credible concept in our industry and if so, how do we relate to this?

Before diving straight in to the subject, there are two important points to make…

• Firstly, it is hard not to talk about pharma social media without treading well worn ground. Instead of evangelising about the industry needing to do more and arguing that regulations are not as limiting as some may think, we will consider some ideas and examples simply to understand the current state of play and consider how things might progress in the next few years.

• Secondly, it is important to understand the unique challenges inherent in all global healthcare communications. Devising an overarching strategy that meets the communications objectives unique to each country, while retaining consistent messaging, is no small task.

What does global pharma social media mean?

There are typically two approaches to global social media (though these are not necessarily mutually exclusive). The first would be an over-arching, top down approach, where local affiliate companies roll-out a ‘big idea’ campaign, constructed and maintained by the global team. The second would be the bottom-up approach, where affiliates roll out tactics at a local level, perhaps based on partially pre-supplied and approved content.

Pfizer’s ‘Can You Feel My Pain’ shows how each principle can be used in practice. The initiative, developed in partnership with nine patient advocacy groups across Europe, had a significant social media presence with Twitter and Facebook profiles specific to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, demonstrating effective use of the top-down approach with these all following the model set by, and interacting with, the over-arching above-country Twitter feed. The bottom-up approach was then the greater focus with people being encouraged through these channels to submit photographs on the theme of pain to Flickr, providing internationally-sourced user-generated content that could be used to increase further interest in the cause.

Pfizer’s-‘Can-You-Feel-My-Pain’-on-FlickrFigure 1: Pfizer’s ‘Can You Feel My Pain’ on Flickr – photographs on the theme of pain

Too great a focus on the top-down, above-country approach might be a cause for concern amongst some people. After all, social media is about personal, meaningful interactions between individuals based on sound local knowledge. It is always important to ensure any over-arching presence is balanced with these priorities, as GE Pharma’s #GetFit campaign did, achieving remarkable results.


“…2012 saw a significant shift in marketing budgets and global PR programmes have become increasingly dominant.”




YouTube Video: The #GetFit Stars: Making Healthy Choices Trend Around the World

One of the reasons why the #GetFit campaign was so successful was because it galvanised a huge internal audience at GE Healthcare. This started the campaign off on a good foot by ensuring that local content drove the initiative forward, rather than top-down corporate ‘push’ communications. #GetFit also worked well by motivating the internal stakeholders responsible for the mechanics behind the campaign.

Internal buy-in is essential, though not necessarily an easy thing to obtain with so many different parties involved. It is fitting that social media could just be the perfect tool to communicate the benefits of social media. This could work by installing a process of best practice sharing for affiliates in the first half of the year. The same platforms or technology could then be used for your actual campaign.

A different approach altogether could be to use global team resources to curate relevant content for markets to use, based on briefs from the markets, without any over-arching public ‘global’ presence.

Global PR teams could curate approved content for their affiliates to use locally or alternatively sponsor patient groups and third party organisations to do so, providing credibility and a healthy degree of independence from the content. The Roche sponsored DiabetesNest shows how this can be done.

A great deal of global work has always been about doing the time-consuming legwork so affiliates have the resources to prioritise their country-specific activities. Social media tactics should not necessarily be any different.


“One of the reasons why the #GetFit campaign was so successful was because it galvanised a huge internal audience at GE Healthcare.”


Does global pharma social media even matter?

To some people, the resource needed for such campaigns is too great and the evaluation demonstrating return on investment too complex. You can also argue that the concept of global pharma social media is a loose one, especially given that any effective implementation must have a strong degree of localisation. But even if global tactics do not directly relate to social media, it will be an inevitable element of any strategy in some way. There is no such thing as being ‘offline’.

Engaging stakeholders through social media does not have to be through direct communications, as quality content can be naturally shared as a result of its value. For example, pharma mobile apps this year have taken off like never before. Disseminating them through third party endorsement, rather than a direct-to-audience social media channel could be one of the most effective ways to increase engagement.

Every situation is unique and must be treated as such. Social media should be considered with an open mind and each tactic must be based on listening and understanding at a local level. To make any strides in this area, the strategic thinking behind such tactics, whether globally, locally or regionally-driven must be as innovative and creative as the technologies that enable these communications in the first place.




About the author:

Ed Purkis is Virgo HEALTH’s dedicated Senior Media Manager and editor of the Healthy Conversations blog. As part of his specialised role at Virgo, Ed advises on media strategy and coordinates media activities and insights across the agency’s Communications and Consumer Health PR divisions. He can be reached on Twitter via @virgohealth or @edpurkis.

How important is global pharma social media?