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5 healthcare social media tips that break the mold for pharma, med tech

With so much word of mouth recommendations being fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few, many industries that have a consumer marketing side want to have a role in directing that dialogue.

Healthcare social media is becoming a necessity for pharmaceutical and medical device companies. With so much word of mouth recommendations being fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to name a few, many industries that have a consumer marketing side want to have a role in directing that dialogue.

But it can be something of a conundrum for many companies — for every good news story of a woman regaining her full hearing thanks to a hearing aid company’s implant, the concern that the reverse could happen is just as great. With Facebook’s recently implemented “wall policy” rules and minding the U.S. Food and Drug administration regulations on advertising, pharmaceutical companies are treading carefully.

Alexandra Von Plato, a co-president of Digitas Health/Razorfish Health, said she has seen a 200 percent jump in RFPs for mobile and social media strategies over 2010. In line with social media trends, she says the emphasis is not so much on overt advertising as creating communities of potential customers for one’s drug.

“Clients are coming to us saying ‘we need to find ways to engage our audience,’ ” Von Plato said. “Advertising in and of itself is no longer the lead strategy. It’s more like ‘We have a product to launch – what’s the way to connect with people to figure out how to engage with them?’ And in order to do that they need to understand how they engage.”

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Tip 1. Look at how social media fits into your customers lifestyle.
The majority of people use laptops and tablets at home – frequently in front of a television. People see something on television and then Google it, or they will tweet in response to something they read online or TV.

“There is a role for advertising to trigger a certain kind of behavior,” Von Plato says. “People are doing it naturally, but there is an opportunity for advertising to become much more cognizant.”

Tip 2. Dont go overboard with apps.
Don’t pick apps just because they’re popular – do some research and see what your customers use. Do not get intimidated by new technology, but use it sensibly.

Tip 3. Create a support network.
Build something that helps customers but doesn’t explicitly mention drugs. Von Plato said it recently launched a Facebook page for the Belgian pharmaceutical company UCB around epilepsy called Epilepsy Advocate.

The market for orphan drug manufacturers is particularly well suited. Providing a forum for a relatively small group of people can enable them to connect worldwide. There is a great deal of social networking, exchanging information between certain communities of people.

“In general the No. 1 thing marketers who are successful share is recognizing that this is not about technology; it is about people and how they are operating in the healthcare system – their habits and media diet. Digital is the center of the bulls eye for healthcare,” Von Plato said.

AstraZeneca’s(NYSE:AZN) “Leading Ladies Perspectives” past campaign did not focus on its drug Arimidex, but rather on user-generated video content from women who had been treated for breast cancer sharing their perspectives on battling the disease, Von Plato said. The content was screened to meet regulatory and legal issues.

“Women spoke in their own words, and shared their feelings and perspectives on how they are moving their lives forward.”

In addition to Von Plato’s suggestions, here are some other ways companies are using social media.

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Tip 4. Using YouTube to share personal experiences.
Diabetes is a significant community as well, particularly as there are so many medical device and pharmaceutical companies in this space. Roche AccuCheck medical device videos on You Tube use personal accounts of how individual cope and adapt their lifestyle to their disease using its device. It serves as a platform for users to share experiences using their diabetes device AccuCheck.

Tip 5. Be an advocate for your industry.
(NYSE:ABT), has sponsored a Facebook page “Labs Are Vital” to support laboratory scientists and promote their importance to the public and healthcare industry. So it can be viewed by members of the public interested in career options, familiarizing people with laboratory professionals and what they do.