When you aren't feeling well and are concerned about your symptoms, what do you do? According to a report released earlier this year, many of us consult Wikipedia as a first step in understanding more about our health. Entitled 'Engaging Patients through Social Media', the report was compiled and distributed by the Connecticut-based IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
The Institute expressed a concern that many healthcare companies were failing to use social media. While acknowledging that about 50 percent of health care companies are trying to be social, it seems there simply aren't as many businesses including it as part of their business strategy as there should be. Furthermore, broadcasting information about products or services may be useful, but it isn't by any means a conversation, or one that shows real engagement between a business and its consumers.
Given that huge numbers of health care professionals are actively social networking, the fact so many businesses aren't engaging with their audiences may seem surprising. However, there are some valid reasons why there has been some reticence. Most organizations look to a regulatory body for guidance to ensure they don't fall foul of any expressly off-limits drug advertising policies.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration – which, ironically, has a strong social media presence - would be that regulatory body, yet the agency has only just released a draft set of guidelines to pharmaceutical companies on this issue. This has meant that many companies have simply waited before leaping into the social media pool.
Concerns about falling foul of rigorous privacy laws have also held companies back, together with some early mistakes in using social media. User-generated comments have shown companies used to controlling the message that there are challenges in handling responses. Businesses are also used to seeking a return on any investment; with social media, the gains aren't always so tangible, and hiring extra staff to manage their digital presence is another financial cost to consider.
In 2014, the IMS Institute is seeing an ever-increasing trend towards consumers actively seeking health information and via use of a mobile device, referred to in the industry as 'mHealth'. Companies will have no choice but to determine their social media strategy, create the appropriate policy safeguards, and engage. By building relationships and having a two-way conversation, pharmaceutical companies can do so much more than broadcast about their products.
With outreach that is global in scope, more brand awareness and loyalty is possible. Data freely mined in this process is a great recipe for targeted and highly-focused marketing. Most importantly, health care information is vital when it comes to spreading awareness of diseases and symptoms, especially if that knowledge leads to saving lives.
The IMS Institute developed its own ratings methodology which formed the basis of its report, and coined another set of '3Rs' - namely 'reach', 'relevance' and 'relationship' -to determine how social media was used, as well as indications of engagement based on audience response.
Based on the results of the IMS Institute's study, here is a list of the 10 pharmaceutical companies worldwide whose use of social media was rated highly in the IMS report.
Union Chimique Belge (UCB) was originally established in 1928 in Belgium as an industrial chemicals business. As a pharmaceutical company, it researches conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease.
On social media, UCB's efforts are concentrated on Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Scoring a low nine in terms of reach and relevance, the business does however rate highly when it comes to engaging with its followers and building relationships.
UCB tweets sporadically but does respond to almost every tweet it receives, and currently has around 880 followers. On Facebook, the company has a dedicated member-only group page called 'More Than Motion', which is aimed at Parkinson's sufferers and has over 45,000 followers.
Just one ranking point higher than UCB, AstraZeneca was formed in 1999 as a result of a merger between companies in Sweden and the UK. Based in London, its research and development work is around cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and autoimmune diseases. Brand names include Crestor®, Symbicort® and Nexium®.
AstraZeneca is reasonably entrenched in social media and uses the medium to broadcast a variety of content, including live tweeting from medical meetings and company events.
Despite some early mistakes, AstraZeneca has won recognition for social chats with patients on Twitter, where its account has over 23,000 followers. Aside from Twitter, AstraZeneca administers two blogs and is also on Facebook and LinkedIn.
New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Merck undertakes research and development in areas including pharmaceuticals, consumer care, animal health, and vaccines. Dr. Scholl's® and Coppertone® are part of their consumer portfolio.
A low ranking of 13 might be a surprise, but Merck is a relative newcomer to social media. The company is slowly moving from broadcasting information to engaging more with its customers.
Followed by over 33,000 on Twitter, the company also operates two Facebook pages, one of which is aimed at mothers and boasts over 87,000 'likes'. Although using YouTube, there are only a few videos currently available. The most engaged social media network for Merck is LinkedIn, where its company page is followed by over 250,000 members and posts are widely viewed and debated.
7 Bayer Healthcare
Bayer Healthcare is based in Leverkusen, Germany. The company's core business is focused on pharmaceuticals, agriculture and high tech materials.
Brands include Xarelto™ and Aleve™. Bayer is an avid social media user, with numerous Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest accounts as well as accounts on Google+, Slideshare and Flickr.
Nevertheless, it only ranks a score of 16 from the IMS Institute, perhaps in part because its social media efforts are so widely dispersed and need to cover both corporate and consumer information. Bayer's most successful efforts are on Facebook, especially its Diabetes page where the company is actively engaged and obtaining useful feedback on its products.
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis focuses on eye care, generic pharmaceuticals, consumer products and animal health care. Research and development targets treatments for cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (CPOD). Consumer brands include Excedrin®, Benefiber® and CIBA Vision™.
Ranked with a score of 18, Novartis clearly has a strong marketing strategy and is active on Flickr, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Facebook. Both Twitter and Facebook command huge numbers of followers, with Facebook posts being well-shared and likes per post averaging around 93.
Despite this activity, which is close to others higher in this list, the conversation is mostly one-way and may account for Novartis being ranked in sixth place.
5 Boehringer Ingelheim
Focusing primarily on cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and virological diseases as well as oncology and diseases of the nervous system, Boehringer Ingelheim is a family-owned German company founded in 1885. Dulcolax® and Zantac® are just two of their consumer brands.
Social media is clearly an important part of their business strategy because the company is active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and YouTube. Launched only in late 2013, its Facebook followers number over 84,000, and the company has even developed a Facebook game called 'Syrum' which teaches players about drug development.
Its experimental approach is gaining fans, and though ranked by the IMS Institute at 18, a future list might see Boehringer Ingleheim placed higher.
Started in New York in 1849, Pfizer today concentrates on four core sectors: primary and specialty care, established products and animal health care. Its research efforts are focused on a variety of treatments, including for diseases associated with immunology, oncology, and the cardiovascular system; as well as neuroscience and vaccines.
Pfizer is known for brands like Lyrica®, Advil® and Chapstick®. Ranked a score of 20, the company's efforts at social media are producing results: its Facebook account has over 103,000 fans, and on its primary Twitter feed, followers number almost 94,000.
Interestingly, Pfizer has more videos on YouTube than many of the companies included in this list and one of them, created around a 'Get Old' marketing campaign, has garnered a staggering 347,000+ views.
3 Novo Nordisk
From its earliest days in Denmark in the 1920s, Novo Nordisk has focused on developing products to help people with diabetes. It is now a worldwide leader in diabetes care, haemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy. Brands include Victoza® and Vagifem® .
As a result, Novo Nordisk's social media efforts rely heavily on mentions of diabetes and patient care. Its European Team Twitter feed, which has over 52,000 devotees, consists of professional cyclists who live with diabetes themselves.
An early social media adopter, the company rates a score of 23 due to its ability to have real conversations with its audience. It averages around 142 'likes' per post on Facebook.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is the result of a merger in 2000. Today, the company focuses on pharmaceuticals, consumer products and vaccines. Research and development is in areas like HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, lupus and malaria. Abreva®, Macleans® and Tums® are examples of their products.
Social media outreach is based around its vaccines and public health campaigns, including future health technology. The company has over 102,000 likes on Facebook and each post, according to the research, is liked by 160 users on average.
GSK is also on Flickr and LinkedIn while its YouTube channel videos are extremely popular, besting the competition by around 10,000 more views per video. The IMS Institute's report gave GlaxoSmithKline a ranking of 25.
1 Johnson & Johnson
At number one on the list, with a noteworthy ranking of 70, is Johnson & Johnson. The New Jersey company was founded in 1886 and soon became a consumer favourite. Today, Johnson & Johnson's range covers medical devices and diagnostics, pharmaceuticals in areas such as immunology, infectious diseases, vaccines and oncology, and consumer care products. Popular brands include Aveeno®, Band-Aid®, Tylenol® and Splenda®.
Due to its strong brand recognition and its long history, the company has been able to gain huge traction on social media, avoiding some of the stricter pharmaceutical advertising standards.
Compared to its competitors, the company is well ahead regarding engagement with its audience, boasting millions of fans on its company and branded Facebook pages, and averaging about 590 'likes' per post.