Social media in Indian pharma – are we ready?

Dinesh Chindarkar

MediaMedic Communications

Being one of the fastest growing markets amongst the emerging ones, all eyes are on India. There could not be a more opportune time for the Indian pharma industry than NOW. With a strong manufacturing and R&amp,D base, the industry is poised to deliver.

The market

Market dynamics are changing rapidly. With a vibrant population of 1,200 million, more than 50% of which is young, the domestic Indian market is set to grow rapidly too. Newer, modern healthcare facilities are being set up to meet the growing need. Moving towards being a hub for medical tourism, India has evolved over the past decade and organized pharmacy chains and wellness chains are now being created. Increasing urbanization, growing middle class, rising literacy rates and a strong economy are all positive drivers for the Indian pharma industry.

The technology

The government has also encouraged technology for the past two decades, and the result is greater use of IT, improved internet usage (though still a long way to go), and particularly the depth of mobile penetration. It always amazes every outsider visiting India to see the usage of mobile by the masses. Currently India boasts of around 850 million mobile users and has an amazing rural penetration.

Social media

On the other hand, the Internet users too are increasingly on the rise and there are around 100million of them currently. Out of these, the social media sector is growing very fast and expected to cross 45 million users by next year. Startlingly, recent statistics show that 45,000 users are added everyday to this rapidly growing network. The BUPA Health Pulse Survey published last week showed that 90% of Indian internet users searched for online health information and 60% searched for specific medicine information. This poses a big opportunity for pharma and healthcare marketers.

“It always amazes every outsider visiting India to see the usage of mobile by the masses.”

Though the advent of social media in India started late compared with global standards, the growth has been very rapid in the recent past. Traditionally and culturally, Indians nurture relationships both on professional and personal fronts and have close bonds socially and with the family. This is one major reason for early adoption. Though Orkut took India by storm 4 years back, since then Facebook has caused a major shift in this and now boasts of over 30 million users. LinkedIn is used for professional networking by around 10 million users today and the numbers are increasing daily. Twitter user statistics are also sharply on the rise and India features amongst the top 10 countries actively using this micro-blogging platform.

Will the Indian pharma industry embrace social media?

Can the consumer statistics in India be leveraged by the pharma industry, through digital and social media?

Certainly YES! But currently, the industry is too unsure of what CAN be done.

Unlike the western world, India does not have strong patient communities since the focus had always been on the ‘treatment’ areas and acute conditions. But now as India shifts to the ‘preventive’ healthcare and chronic conditions there will be more focus in this area. Patients and their relatives are increasingly talking about both ‘illness’ and ‘wellness’ issues online. The rapid growth in the lifestyle disease over the last decade has further fuelled the need for ‘patient community groups’.

The industry is strictly regulated for the prescription products, but the non-Rx products are advertised directly to the consumer. All communication though, has to be ‘responsible’ in that it must not violate the existing ‘Drugs and Magic Remedies Act’ and the Code of marketing Practice set up by the governing bodies.

With this in view, there is no reason why the industry cannot take advantage of this emerging media and embrace it.

Applications of social media

Keeping the conservative nature of the Indian industry in mind, however, the first step could begin with mere ‘listening’. In other words understand the consumer’s concerns and use this market research data to develop communication and marketing strategies for both non-Rx as well as the Rx products (for doctors and pharmacists).

Social media listening can provide pharma companies a wealth of healthy insights. Users are talking on twitter about their diseases conditions, seeking help on microblogging sites and expressing concerns on Facebook. It has shown an emerging pattern in various health conditions including heart diseases, diabetes etc.

Keeping the laws in mind the next step could be to move towards ‘engagement’.

“…90% of Indian internet users searched for online health information and 60% searched for specific medicine information.”

The future growth drivers

Social media usage in pharma and healthcare has just begun in India. Future growth depends on:

• How quickly the doctor, pharmacist and the consumer becomes more internet and mobile savvy.

• How open the Indian pharma marketer is to understanding and accepting the changing scene.

• How fast the Indian pharma marketer will ‘learn and be ready to play’ the new game.

• Who amongst the innovator marketers will take the lead and capitalize on this emerging medium.

Social media needs a different mind-set. As the consumer evolves, Indian marketers need to adapt, and the ‘decision makers’ in this area must support the ‘doers’ to utilize this new exciting medium. All levels of marketing personnel will first need to ‘educate’ themselves to be able to apply this effectively.

Just last week, the healthcare hashtag #hcsmin (healthcare communication social media India) has been registered with the twitter handle @hcsmin_india and there has been significant activity seen around it. This clearly shows that India is poised for the next growth taking into perspective the existing healthcare needs of consumers, increasing technology access to all and the robust economy.

About the author:

Dinesh Chindarkar is a pharmaceutical marketing professional from India with over 14 years of experience in various aspects of pharma and healthcare communication. He is the co-founder of MediaMedic Communications – a healthcare communication agency based in Mumbai, India. He has been actively involved in introducing newer media including digital and social media, healthPR in the Indian pharma and healthcare industry. He has also co-founded the healthcare hashtag #hcsmin for India.

For more information, email Dinesh at dinchin@yahoo.com. He could also be reached at +91 98206 00312 or follow him on Twitter at or visit www.mediamedichealth.com.

Do you think Indian pharma is ready to embrace social media?