Article Blog Life Sciences September 8, 2014 2 minute read

Should Pharma Companies Care about Social Media?

There are many reports and recommendations from companies like McKinsey and others suggesting various approaches and strategies to deal with “Social” data–one of the most significant areas generating interest as part of the “Big Data” hype.  Although many of these appear to target more consumer-oriented industries, such as retail, consumer goods, financial services etc, most of it is applicable to Pharma as well.

Pharma is slow to embrace social data given the regulatory environment, as well as the complex economic marketplace in which it operates, so lags behind other industries when it comes to technology adoption in general.  Now is the right time for Pharma to jump in and embrace the power of the social world.

Patient-centered Approach Means Embracing Social Media

With Pharma becoming more “patient-centered”, it becomes imperative to keep track of what the patients, as well as the entire patient ecosystem, including care providers, physicians, nurses, payers etc. are “perceiving” and sharing.  In fact, after the success that portals like patientslikeme.com have had with over 2 million posts across a variety of disease areas, several other sites are now doing fairly similar things.  Each has some new value-add that they provide their patient audience, but every one of them allows for patients to have discussions within that community.

Social Media is No Longer a “Nice to Have”

It is amazing to see the kind of experiences that many of the players in this ecosystem are voluntarily sharing with the world via the discussion forums in the various patient portals.  I was surprised to see one particular post where a patient disclosed a lot of personal information and detailed a list of therapies she had undergone along with the challenges, concerns, problems, and benefits she experienced.  Many of these posts can be considered patient diaries, which provide a great longitudinal view of the patient experience over time.  Many of these posts appear to be from younger patients and less tech- averse folks.  Many portals are now trying to provide better context and form for these discussions, including obtaining measurable feedback such as “how are you feeling today on a scale of 1-5?” , which further enriches the data.  A few pharma companies have taken the plunge and are trying to derive insights that can further enrich their current key objective metrics.  I’ve heard of one pharma company executive sharing that within the span of a year, their internal pitch to fund projects around such datasets and insights has changed from “we can be the thought leaders in this space” to “we need to jump in now to not be left behind.

How best to utilize social media is not an easy problem to solve, as it’s not what enterprises have experience with, and the tools and skills required are not easy to come by.  Though this is quickly changing, it does require sponsored initiatives by the pharma companies to get their hands dirty and begin the journey to derive insights from this rich social media landscape.

 

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