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Published February 26th 2015

Research: The Pharma Industry Must Change its Attitude to Social

As someone with a chronic illness, I’ve often Tweeted about my many prescriptions, drugs and side effects.

I’ve done as many thousands of others do online – I’ve discussed treatment plans, spoken with people on the other side of the world trialling the same drugs and complained about how different combinations have resulted in unsavory swellings and lumps and bumps.

I’m what pharmaceutical brands would label an ’empowered patient.’

The internet has made medical information more accessible than ever before, boosting health literacy and connecting people around the world with similar symptoms and conditions.


Empowered patients and the online world

Today, patients and caregivers are part of a wider, connected ecosystem where social media is a key resource across multiple devices. In the US, for example, over one third of consumers manage their own health and are using social media to help them make important healthcare decisions.

Social media platforms provide a new avenue for information and dialogue. In addition, the virtual environment enhances communications by creating a comfortable way to exchange information.


Sending out a blast on a drug that’s not working for you and is causing you upset and frustration can seem far easier than speaking face-to-face to people in the office – much to the manufacturer’s chagrin, I’m sure!

Companies are being held to increasingly high standards set by organizations that excel at listening and responding, such as Dell, Argos, Southwest Airlines and others.

These companies are setting the bar not just for their direct competitors, but also across all sectors, including the pharma industry.

Why is the pharmaceutical industry so far behind?

The fact that pharma companies aren’t as experienced in the social listening sphere as, say, airlines, is no coincidence.

This is largely due to the ‘listening as liability’ mindset that comes primarily from compliance concerns surrounding adverse event (AE) reporting in a heavily regulated environment, and also doubts about how to measure the ROI for such initiatives.


Many pharmaceutical companies fear that being involved in social conversations will increase the number of adverse drug experience reports and force them to conduct investigations that could be costly and damaging.

This concern is exacerbated by the fact that current regulations and guidelines from the FDA (and ABPI) fail to provide clear guidelines around enforcement and pharmaceutical companies’ obligations to report AEs identified through social channels.

The benefits far outweigh the detriments

However, through extensive research undertaken with PharmiWeb Solutions, we found that adverse event reporting through social media rarely presents an issue for pharmaceutical companies – for reasons of which we go into in detail in our free whitepaper, Social Listening for the Pharmaceutical Industry.

Not only this, but after conducting tests using real social data for diabetes (on of the highest volume therapy areas), we were able to read, log and categorize the results and make recommendations.

We found that there are a variety of strong use-cases for social listening in this sector, including as a research tool, as campaign evaluation, to understand market trends and consumer insights.

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Following this, we worked with PharmiWeb to provide a solution that combines both the cutting edge, social media analytics platform and data analysis from both Brandwatch and PharmiWeb’s sector-specific, actionable insights and strategic marketing recommendations.

The result is a highly specialized solution tailored to the life sciences sector, enabling pharma brands to ensure they start to catch up with other industries.

For more information on social listening for the pharmaceutical industry, including case studies, examples, information on use-cases and to learn more about how you can leverage social media listening to achieve business success, you can download our new whitepaper, for free, below.

Now you know.

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