Challenging Pharma and Medical Device Companies to Be Better on Social September 10, 2015

Written by: Olga Kraineva
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Pharmaceutical and medical device companies and healthcare practitioners alike have been cautious to join social conversations due to fear of their legal and regulatory bodies and FDA regulations. Twitter, in particular, is worrisome due to the cap of 140 characters – how to disclose everything necessary for best use? Even Kim Kardashian was recently hand slapped for not fully disclosing both the positive and negative side effects of a morning sickness pill on Instagram.

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An easy place to start for many companies was live-tweeting around events, such as healthcare conferences, and simply echoing their press release information. As a heavy media-oriented, news-like channel, Twitter worked well for this, as that info is already approved by legal and regulatory. It also worked well when joining in on the social conversations that occurred at different conferences, simply by adding on the official conference hashtag at the end of their tweet.

However, just this summer, a group of scientists and HCPs have joined together to form the #MICEProject (Measuring the Influencer of Commercial Entities) in the Twitter backchannels of medical conferences. Their argument is while there are certain precautions taken at live conferences to separate third party entities (pharma and medical device companies) and “learners” (healthcare providers, other attendees) so that a learner, if they so desire, would never have to expose themselves to a third party. Currently, these restrictions do not exist on Twitter. Using PageRank, the study analyzed the influence of HCPs and third party entities at 13 different medical conferences from 2011-2013, suggesting that medical device and pharma companies exert around the same amount of influence as healthcare providers within the social space, something that is protected against happening at live conferences.

Their bottom line is that pharma and medical device companies should stop spreading biased information and instead focus on evidence-based medical knowledge – or curb their use of medical hashtag use overall. While it’s quite provocative to have full restrictions on companies’ hashtag use at medical conferences, the larger issue this brings up is using social strategically and not posting for the sake of posting.

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As part of the #MICEProject, Pharma Marketing News created an initial survey on third party medical conference hashtag use.

As an overall struggle many companies face, pharma and medical device companies need to move past one-way communication streams and sending information that is likened to an ad and instead engage in social conversations that add to the dialogue. Using event hashtags can be a great springboard to reach your target audiences, but make it conversations that matter to them – not just what is safe and approved by your L&R. At the present moment, as seen with the #MICEProject, we’re in a place of not applying best practices and angering our audiences – quite the opposite of the intended result.