by Amanda Mohar
June 7th, 2013

Based on in-depth interviews with industry professionals in the new report Digital Health: Building Social Confidence, pharma companies should consider the following strategies to maximise their social confidence.

1. Focus on the content, not the channel – Anything you can do offline, you can do online, as long as your content adheres to current regulatory standards. Companies have run afoul of regulators when they have not followed standards that apply to non-digital rules of communication. Insuring that content adheres to established codes of conduct, regardless of the medium, will build social confidence and allay the anxieties that currently encumber pharma companies.

2. Start small – Test the waters with focused projects – perhaps around corporate goals, news and reputation issues – to gain an understanding of what works, how to begin finding audiences and building reach. Interviewees agree that starting small, such as with pilot programmes, is key to gaining the experience and assurance they need to build their digital social strategies.

3. Prepare, but remain flexible – Many state that preparation is important, principally to anticipate problems and devise solutions. However, interviewees caution against devoting significant resource to developing a fully “buttoned-up” strategy, as it will change and evolve over time. They describe how they learned, adjusted and needed space to experiment without the pressure of stringent expectations or metrics.

4. Choose your channels wisely – Some interviewees portray industry colleagues as quick to jump into social media simply for the sake of “being there” and they advise on a more strategic approach, especially in choosing platforms. Communicators suggest initial monitoring and research of specific audience groups to explore where they currently engage and what types of information they seek as well as share. Developing a strategy without this “social listening” is not recommended.

5. Ensure transparency and honesty – Interviewees insist on clear rules of engagement and making them plainly visible on all social platforms. Some companies make a digital code of ethics available to both internal and external audiences. Others point to “soft” and “genuine” tones as most effective with consumer audiences. Offering information or support that is valued by a community such as detail on clinical trials or lifestyle advice demonstrates that a company cares more than simply “pushing” or “selling” a message.

6. Deputise a person or team, and give them full support – Allocating staff resources for social endeavors and providing all appropriate training and support are key in successful social programming. Relatedly, empower social media staff with the authority to post by agreeing upon what is and is not acceptable, and as the organisation’s social confidence increases, move beyond the need to pre-approve all posts or tweets. This model of empowerment works in conjunction with clear rules of conduct provided to all employees, insuring protection against rogue internal social posters.

7. Bring others into the fold – Working to gain the support of internal colleagues, especially from legal, regulatory and medical teams is critical. Additionally, including socially-supportive leaders from business units in strategic planning will ease the process of resolving any issues that arise in social media programming. One communications executive described how an internal audit became a “godsend,” producing a company wide mandate for social media where senior executives sit on a steering committee to oversee strategy development.

8. Ramp up internal education efforts – Sharing the benefits and best practices around social communications will go a long way towards gaining broad support for the medium. Some interviewees are engaging outside experts to evangelise social platforms to internal company stakeholders.

9. Staff for social confidence – A large proportion of interviewees find the level of current staff experience to be lacking, while others recognise that they require additional resources to execute social media programs. Therefore, it is important to offer ongoing training on company guidelines and codes of conduct and identify internal and external resources that can supply fresh and relevant content for social platforms. Similarly, determine which resources are needed to implement a social monitoring programme and develop an employee attraction and retention strategy that demonstrates exciting opportunities for socially-skilled professionals.

10. Continue pushing the limits of ROI – While no one has answered the unique ROI challenges faced by the pharma industry, it is imperative to persistently seek better ways to articulate the ROI from social media. Consider how to value the benefits of listening to audiences and developing new market insights, develop internal benchmarks to measure what different business units or markets have done to determine resource allocations, take into account the audience served by social programmes and participate in industry-wide initiatives to compare data for benchmarking purposes

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