Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry - from Influencer Relations to Digital Opinion Leaders

August 26, 2019

Social media communication and its various associated buzzwords is always a topic in the marketing and communications departments of the pharmaceutical industry. However, experiences with the efficient use of social media vary greatly - both in terms of the depth of know-how and in terms of the results of previous social media projects. Nicole Tappée, Managing Director of MCG Medical Consulting Group, highlights some typical discussion points and trends in social media communication.
Three classic counterarguments ... and why they are only partially correct

Counterargument 1:
Are Facebook and Instagram relevant to my audience or topic?

This question may be completely correct in itself. Nevertheless, it is a nice example of a very common misunderstanding: Social media is not synonymous with Facebook and Instagram! Rather, it is a digital form of communication with a relevant reach and interest in the target group's feedback, which can be used meaningfully both in addressing end consumers and patients and in professional communication. In Germany, communication with specialist circles in social media is strongly driven by the HCP communities (e.g. esanum, DocCheck, coliquio), and internationally via Twitter. Among consumers, Facebook and YouTube are still ahead - with Instagram catching up more and more. And the relevance of the networks on Xing and LinkedIn is often underestimated or attributed purely to corporate communication. Social media therefore has many facets and should not be excluded from the outset for a target group or a topic.

Counterargument 2:
Is social media communication more than just an add-on?

I actually have the impression that many people only think of social media "when there is still a little budget left". Depending on the objectives and target group of your own communication measures, this can result in significant disadvantages in terms of reach. Moreover, in addition to the missed reach, feedback with the target group is often missing and the corresponding optimisation potential is left unused. In this respect, one can be happy if social media is considered at all. As an "add-on", social media can also provide excellent services - especially in the extension of messages in the target group (reach), the activation of the target group (call to action) or the testing of various messages (A/B tests).

Counterargument 3:
Is social media dangerous and time-consuming?

What exactly is classified as dangerous? I think word has got around that the danger of a shit storm is manageable. What remains is the "danger" of the adverse drug reaction (UAW). But here, too, it is not really a danger, but the safeguarding of a process. This process should be established within the company itself, and UAW monitoring and reporting is also a fixed component of the range of services offered by agencies that specialize in social media communication in the pharmaceutical industry. In my experience, the fear that a large number of UAW reports will roll towards the company as soon as it becomes active in the social media is unfounded. So all that remains is the concern that negative feedback will always come. It is true, of course, that criticism is expressed on the Internet, and especially in the social media. One is not used to that from one-way communication in this form. Here I can say from experience that the community often even invalidates negative comments itself if the right platform is played with the appropriate content. And you also get a lot of encouragement and positive feedback.

One argument I don't want to invalidate is the amount of time it takes. Social media communication is usually more time-consuming than other communication disciplines. Social media should therefore first be well prepared: Processes and responsibilities are defined, the right platform for addressing the target group is chosen (not only "where is the target group", but also "where does the target group want information on this topic") and a content and ad plan is available. Here, social media does not differ so much from other digital campaigns. A good preparation gives security and guarantees the efficiency of the measure. But when the time comes, monitoring and community management are on the agenda and these are factors that should definitely be scheduled. The way you communicate is a good way to control how much interaction is encouraged. Nevertheless, it is an additional expenditure of time. But why are there competent service providers who can support you?

Exciting fields of social media communication ... there's something for everyone

influencer relations

The Buzzwords thing is. In the past we talked about blogger relations, then the big field of influencer marketing came up. But I find the combination in the form of "influencer relations" particularly exciting for most Rx products. It combines relationship management - analogous to classic KOL management in the specialist area - with the influencer trend of patient or consumer communication. "Influencer" has become simply the more correct expression and says exactly why there is interest in this person. She has something to say about the subject and our target group listens to her. The celebrity influencers (stars who present themselves on social media) or the mega influencers (millions of followers) are certainly rarely relevant for healthcare communication. Micro influencers with potential should be the focus, i.e. focused on one topic (e.g. a certain disease), a manageable number of followers (especially because of the focus), but ambitious and with an upward trend. Depending on the indication, nano-influencers may also be relevant, which have a very small range but a high influencer level for the specific topic.

Digital Opinion Leader

KOL (Key Opinion Leader) or TL (Thought Leader) are abbreviations that are common in professional communication. Now a new abbreviation is added: Digital Opinion Leader (DOL) - Health Care Professionals who have a high level of digital competence and often a certain digital reach. While the number of followers on Instagram is (still) an important indicator for lay influencers, Twitter followers are a relevant indicator for DOLs. Of course with clearly manageable figures, especially since Twitter is not as important in Germany as it is in the USA or large parts of Western Europe. But due to the international exchange among scientists, Twitter and LinkedIn are also relevant in Germany for the integration within the medical community. An identification of potential DOLs through an appropriate DOL analysis makes sense in any case, because the communication behaviour of doctors is also changing and digitally active colleagues are increasingly used as a source of information. The cooperation possibilities with DOLs are legally limited analogous to the cooperation with KOLs, but especially with regard to congresses, AdBoards and Medical Education they are of great value.

Social Ads

Last but not least a few sentences about social ads: Social media communication is in large parts simply classic marketing and thus paid promotion for a product, a topic or a company. Anyone who subscribes to newsletters, switches Google ads or implements emailing campaigns should also think about "sponsored posts" - whether on DocCheck, LinkedIn or Facebook. Today, social media communication without an advertising budget only rarely makes sense, as the organic reach of almost all networks has been severely restricted. But the effect of ad measures is often impressive and the figures speak for themselves. And even if Facebook Ads, for example, usually don't yet manage the call-to-action boost of Google Ads, they cover the additional content marketing aspect excellently via text and image/video.

What do I have to pay attention to when I start with social media?

  1. Someone should know their stuff.
    Either internally or an agency specialized in healthcare with social media know-how.
  2. The target group must be clearly defined.
    This is the only way I can select the right platform(s) - not every platform is suitable, even if the target group is represented there.
  3. The goal must be clear.
    This is the only way I can develop the right content and ad strategy and implement meaningful community management.
  4. Don't just get started.
    The legal framework stipulates that processes and responsibilities should first be clarified (flowchart, guideline).
  5. But then: have fun and learn! 😊
    Take advantage of the great opportunities of digital communication in social networks.

My conclusion

Social media "is here to stay". It is a new form of communication and relevant to all target groups in different forms. It is therefore worth not viewing social media communication as a niche, but actively integrating it into marketing and communication plans. Because those who "get involved" with social media are usually rewarded - with good reach, exciting insights and relevant "relations".


Nicole Tappée
Managing Director, MCG Medical Consulting Group
Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing and of course

Nicole Tappée has had a decisive influence on social media communication in healthcare communication since 2010. Initially through the establishment and expansion of antwerpes ag's Social Media Lab. Since 2018 with the Social Media Division of MCG Medical Consulting Group. Their aim is to achieve a better understanding of the opportunities offered by this form of communication among those who are sceptical. And to be a competent partner for those for whom social media is already an important part of their communication.

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ysura offers software solutions to the pharmaceutical market, including Sales and Marketing Optimization, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Activity Planning, Consent (opt-in) Management, Multichannel Marketing Campaigns, Order Management, Sample Management, Key-Opinion-Leader Management and Augmented Video Conferencing. All Modules can be integrated in and to a CRM and can also be used as a Stand-alone Solution.

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