I spent ten years working for an association of pharmaceutical and biotech marketers and communications professionals. During this time Web 2.0 took off, marketers rushed into the e-space, and the individuals in our organization had to stand on the sidelines.
In an industry where marketing fines can exceed $1 billion and even that amount is considered by many to be either too small or ineffectual (read a Washington Post article here or a Time Magazine article here on the topic), marketers in highly regulated industries, like healthcare, must be very cautious with social media efforts.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rigorous standards that must be met in all communications by a company about its products. The Coalition for Healthcare Communications advocates for ‘freer’ speech and regularly writes position papers and raise issues with the government to help clarify what is and what is not acceptable, however, compared to most industries, the ability to openly communicate with Rx consumers and prescriber’s is very limited and restricted. Taken together, many companies have have ‘no social media’ policies when it comes to marketing.
So in this type of environment, how can a company use social media (these will also work in a non-restrictive industry)?
Blogging: the grand-daddy of social media is the blog. Report after report indicate that sites with active blogs generate significantly more leads than those without blogs. Post information related to your product, its users, and the space in which it exists. Posts shouldn’t be only about your product. Posts can be pre-approved internally and comments can be moderated or turned-off.
Monitoring: You can gain significant consumer insight by monitoring social media. Monitor the online conversations your product’s users and subscribers are discussing. Listen to what is being said about the condition, your product, and other products. Is what you hear consistent with your internal market research? How does it differ? Is there a new trend to study? Monitoring is critical and there are a lot of tools fighting to dominate this space particularly in the area of ‘real-time’ and ‘semantic’ search.
Content Creation & Discovery: Through monitoring you will learn what questions and discussions consumers and prescriber’s are asking and having. This is a great source for developing new content for your product’s Web site page. If people are talking about something, other people are searching to find the answers. The more current and relevant your site copy, the higher it will rank when people are searching for that content.
Content Aggregation: Aggregating content relevant to your product via RSS feeds on your Web pages, through bookmarking services, or some other 3rd party application will bring people to these sites to learn about the area in which your product is used. You can link to and from 3rd party sites, which can bring potential consumers to your site or position you as expert in your space to these consumers. These links and backlinks will also assist with your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
While many people think of Twitter and Facebook as social media, there are many diverse ways to leverage social media as a competitive advantage even in heavily regulated industries. These are a few basic and general examples. What else would you add?