The extraordinary growth of social media has been a global phenomenon, but life sciences companies have been slow to join in. In a world where 1.28 billion people comment and share on Facebook, more than one billion people watch videos on YouTube, 540 million users interact on Google+ and 255 million people tweet on Twitter, social media presents life sciences companies an unprecedented opportunity to enhance their brand reputation, improve customer (consumer and healthcare providers) service and decrease customer attrition.
In the past, marketing messages between life sciences companies and their customers occurred in a single direction. Companies broadcast their message and only received feedback from patients and healthcare providers privately, for example, via call centers. With so many patients and healthcare providers using social media—research suggests 72 percent of internet users looked online for health information in the last year[i] and two-thirds of doctors used social media for professional purposes [ii]—life sciences companies would be ill-advised not to take advantage of social media monitoring tools to join the conversation.
Beginning the digital journey
Over the last two years, life sciences companies have started to recognize the potential benefits of monitoring social media, but they have faced a number of challenges when it came to implementing certain processes. For example, because many businesses do not have the internal resources to build a comprehensive social monitoring program, they rely on “plug-and-play” solutions to do the monitoring for them. The technologies themselves require training to use and although they provide the high-level data for quantitative analysis; companies are not equipped to understand the data nor turn it into actionable insights.
Other challenges have included difficulties with determining the best social media monitoring tools to use, measuring the return on investment (ROI) and a perceived lack of control over how and who responds to adverse events that can reflect poorly on the company.
A coherent strategy
To address these challenges, companies need a better approach—one that employs a coherent plan and strategy. The first step is to define a vision and objectives for a social media monitoring program, based on the business objectives. Once these are in place, companies should determine the operating model and more importantly - whether to use internal resources, if they have people with the appropriate skills, or use external resources.
They also need to identify the social media profiles and channels that their customers are using as these differ per market and country, identify key influencers and develop standardized processes for social media analysis albeit for adverse events reporting, reputation or competitor analysis. Finally, they need to implement a scalable operating model that supports growth and ties all the components of the program throughout the company into a cohesive and consistent strategy.
Life sciences companies that have defined and implemented a social media monitoring strategy have seen immediate results. They receive alerts when there is a potential brand reputation crisis and have systems in place to respond to the situation effectively. Instead of conducting time-consuming focus groups and market research questionnaires, they have instant access to patient and healthcare provider conversations and an unbiased view of the competitive landscape. They have enhanced customer engagement by mobilizing brand advocates, increasing the relevance of their marketing messages, expanding their audience and interacting directly with their customers. They have reduced costs-to-serve and decreased research costs through lower reliance on costly primary and secondary research, such as, consumer insights into preferred methods of treatment. They have also benefited from lower cost interactions with customers and more opportunities for customers to self-serve through shared information and mutually supportive relationships online.
In an increasingly digital world, life sciences companies must take advantage of the global social media conversation if they want to gain a competitive advantage. By using a coherent and strategic approach to social media monitoring, they can learn not just to listen to what patients and healthcare providers are discussing online, but also to join the conversation. Effective social media monitoring provides actionable insights—providing life sciences companies the tools they need to enhance their brand reputation, improve customer service, reduce costs and take their place as industry leaders.
Content contributor: Megan Hughes