The importance of blogging in pharma


As more and more of us turn to online platforms for information, Jennifer Hague explores why blogging is so important in the pharmaceutical industry.

According to just about every resource available, we know consumers go online to research healthcare. 72% of US internet users and 59% of the general population have looked for health information online within the last year. Also, 40% of women and 30% of men said they have gone online to search their symptoms and diagnose a condition themselves.

Blogging is an opportunity for pharma companies to share information more frequently than websites permit. It also allows sharing in a controlled environment to ensure staying in regulatory compliance when necessary. Informational articles provide value to patient communities who may already be searching online for insight on particular topics.

Before a brand starts blogging they need to spend time doing research, understand who their target readers are and the wants and needs of that target audience and then find opportunities to fill gaps where the information might not be readily available.

Of course there are FDA guidelines and restrictions for content in pharma-focused blogs as there are for any pharma website. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) compliance must be adhered to. For example, information must be appropriately presented to consumers, specifically, that it provides a fair balance between the risks and benefits of a product.

Because of these restrictions, pharma companies can decide to create a branded or unbranded blog.

"Blogging is an opportunity for pharma companies to share information more frequently than websites permit."

Branded blogs are beneficial to pharma because they help increase brand awareness, increase voice in the disease state, increase search engine placement for keyword phrases and help educate their target community about a specific product or disease state. They provide a place where information seekers can go to find information but they also allow influencers to share the content in places where the brand might not be able to participate in - such as online forums. The downside to branded blogs is the requirement of including Important Safety Information (ISI). ISI can add distracting clutter to a blog and may reduce a reader's trust because it appears to be just another marketing avenue.

However, unbranded blogs have the potential to add more value, as there are fewer restrictions in the creation of content. A disease state can be openly discussed, while conversations around lifestyle and empowering stories encourage sharing in the community. There is more authentic, unbranded storytelling, so you are helping gain share of voice, influencing online sentiment and attracting keyword traffic..

Some examples of unbranded blogs in pharma include Sanofi Discuss Diabetes, Your Partner in Epilepsy and Medtronic.

Creating shareable content that creates an emotional response is key for anyone maintaining a successful blog. Try to make the reader laugh, cry, think, scream, completely disagree or wholeheartedly agree with you. These are the visceral emotions we want to evoke so they continue reading the article and inspire them to share it.. Creating infographics is a strategic way companies can convey a complex piece of information into an easily digestible and shareable format. In addition, content that is inspiring is very shareable. Especially in disease state communities – someone managing a chronic illness like diabetes, lives with this every day and are told they can't or shouldn't do something and it is very inspiring to see others with the same disease doing amazing or inspiring things. . Check out the Sanofi Discuss Diabetes inspiring interview with Missy Foy, an Olympic Marathon Trial qualifier and ultra-distance runner living with type 1 diabetes.

"Blogs are perfectly paired with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook."

Blogs are perfectly paired with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As communities are built on social networks, alerting followers of published blog posts will drive more traffic to those posts. The ultimate goal is for the community to find value in each blog post and ultimately subscribe via RSS. Blogs are an integral component of the social media ecosystem, as shown below:


Another critical component to blogging is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and keyword targeting. Without this, you can have the best content in the world, but no one will know it because they won't be able to find it.. Once you have determined an article concept, brainstorm keywords you anticipate would be searched for under the specific topic you are discussing. Hitwise is a good resource for determining underserved search terms. Once an article is published, it should be re-visited around 30-60 days from the publish date to fine tune the keywords that may have been missed. And every quarter, it is beneficial to ensure previous blog articles are linked to new articles using appropriate keywords. When writing new posts, there should always be links back to previous posts so Google understands how they are related to each other.

Search engines are looking for sites that are trustworthy and relevant for what users are searching for. Because of this, search engines value newer content as it is up-to-date information and shows site owners are taking the time to expand and inform the site. . This means that blogs that are always adding new content and posts, are viewed very favorably by search engines. If done correctly, a blog can receive a majority of its traffic from free organic search, and this traffic is some of the best quality traffic a blog can receive.

"...blogs that are always adding new content and posts, are viewed very favorably by search engines"

And finally on a more technical note, there are various platforms to choose from when starting a blog. It may depend on internal IT infrastructure and whether companies are interested in hosting a blog themselves or relying on a third party source. Because of its wide level of acceptance, I recommend a self-hosted Wordpress account. For those companies who aren't interested in self-hosting, I still recommend using Wordpress because of the quality of software, frequent security updates and a broad developer community.

A lot of people are familiar with WordPress, but other platforms like BlogEngine allow us to completely customize the experience if needed and provides a lot of flexibility. BlogEngine is open source, meaning the actual code is available to download and modify and the license is "open" for everyone to utilize. In addition, the full .net source code is available. There are a few core features in BlogEngine which makes it less complicated to add new features or change existing ones. Kentico and SiteFinity also provide a lot of functionality beyond a standard blogging platform.

Maintaining a blog gives readers the confidence to trust in you, your company and your brand as an expert in your field. Blogging gives the ability to forge a stronger connection with readers and encourage your audience to return for relevant information. Blogging adds new, fresh content consistently to your website and creates something to share within social communities. This generates more inbound links to your website, raising your credibility rating and boosting search engine rankings.

Blogging is no longer just a hobby, and it is no longer "off limits" for pharma. It has become an integrated, influential tool with endless possibilities for the businesses of today and should not be overlooked in your marketing plan.



About the author:

Jennifer Hague manages a number of social media accounts for Intouch Solutions, a leading digital pharmaceutical marketing agency based in the U.S. At Intouch, she works within one of the industry's largest pharma social media practices to deliver integrated social media programs for clients. Jennifer regularly contributes to the Intouch Solutions blog, providing content in her areas of expertise.

Jennifer graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in journalism and has nearly 10 years of experience in communications with prior roles as a Communications Specialist, Editor and Graphic Designer. She is also a nationally recognized professional pet photographer and photo restoration artist. In her spare time, Jennifer photographs adoptable dogs at local shelters, dramatically increasing adoption rates. Jennifer can be found on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Closing thought: What are your favourite pharma blogs?

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28 January, 2014