1. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
A PRESCRIPTION FOR
AN INSIDE LOOK AT
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE
Research: April 2010
2. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
It’s no surprise that as consumers spend more time online and on social media sites, marketers rely more
heavily on these channels to reach their core audiences. It’s happening across a number of industries; yet
for an industry like pharmaceuticals and healthcare, regulation creates an additional level of complexity.
Before today’s pharma marketer can best utilize social media to reach and engage with patients, they
must understand the consumer’s perspective and the beneﬁts and value of social media. Their marketing
strategy should be driven by a number of critical factors including from where individuals get their
information; what types of individuals engage in social media; why and how they engage in social media;
how social media drives a more skilled, knowledgeable and proactive patient; and consumer perceptions
about the role that pharma should play in social media participation.
Epsilon’s social media and pharma study was designed to deliver deep insights into social media
behavior and the impact on patient outcome. The research shows that social media is in fact driving
a more proactive and engaged patient who has strong feelings about the role pharma should play in
The study shows that, among individuals who are predisposed to engaging online, the online channel
as a source of health/drug related information is almost as important as personal interactions with health
care providers. The opportunity lies in making social media a relevant part of the already relevant online
channel. To be expected, larger web properties, such as WebMD, YahooHealth, GoogleHealth and
Brand.com sites are garnering the most visits. These websites lend credibility to pharma-sponsored
content to a varying degree. In fact, some of the smaller community sites that don’t have nearly as wide a
reach (e.g., Carepages.com and RealMentalHealth.com) have high levels of credibility. The wisdom of these
community sites leads to powerful recommendations that have instant credibility with many patients.
Leading pharmaceutical companies should partner more closely with online health properties to reach
a captive audience and beneﬁt from the credibility these sites lend to content. Many of these sites already
have integrated social media components that can also be leveraged.
Rate each source on its ability to provide you with the information you need
to make a decision about your general health and drug information
Product Brochures at the Doctor’s Ofﬁce
Doctors Ofﬁce TV Advertising
Email Messages General Health
Direct Mail Postcard/Brochure
Messages on Mobile Devices
0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100%
3. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
What consumers are viewing on the sites they visit is as important as where they are spending
their time online. The study assessed the content that consumers view on general sections of
sites as well as the social media component. The content is indicative of the way consumers
engage in social media – both reading and contributing content. It’s clear that the main interest
of consumers is the foundational information – they want to understand their condition, learn
about the symptoms and treatment options, and understand key terms. Where individuals are
in the treatment cycle will also affect their interests. Pharma marketers should ensure that their
social media efforts help consumers achieve their core informational goals.
When you do visit health-related sites,
how often do you view the following types of content?
Information about a speciﬁc conditon/disease
Information about Drugs & Supplements
Latest health news
General health topics
Find a drug
Questions to ask your doctor
Glossary of terms
Support and advice on how to manage my life
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60%
Among Internet respondents, 40% engage with social media on health sites either by reading or
posting content. The frequency of their participation shows that half engage a few times a year,
a quarter engage monthly and nearly one-ﬁfth engage on a weekly basis. The study also explored
what characteristics deﬁne a frequent user. The most important is an innate belief that social
media will empower the individual to do more. In addition, these “engaged” consumers are more
sophisticated and more likely to participate in blogs or multiple websites. They are focused on
their search – looking for drug-related information more so than general health information.
Approximately how often do you engage in social networking
content when you visit these sites?
Every day or almost every day
51% 19% On a weekly basis
Once a month
A few times a year
4. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
The drivers behind why individuals participate
and why they don’t participate will help pharma Indicate how much you agree with the following reasons
marketers uncover the true opportunities within
for participating in social networking sites
social media. The study found two overwhelming I ﬁnd comfort knowing I’m not the only one 55%
who is going through what I am
reasons why consumers participate: reassurance
(“I’m not the only one going through what I’m It helps me ﬁnd answers to my health 53%
going through”) and intimacy (“It helps me ﬁnd from people like me/with my condition
answers to my health from people like me/ It empowers me to do more 36%
with my condition”). The emotional reasons
for participation far outweighed the more It helps me solve my health problems 31%
rational reasons; i.e. “It helps me reach my It helps me reach my health goals 29%
health goals.” Social media can be a powerful
vehicle if marketers connect with individuals on
an emotional level. While patients may be looking for foundational information, they are also
looking for emotional support conveyed through a tone of reassurance and intimacy. Discussion
topics that extend beyond the clinical to truly connect with what a patient is going through will
resonate even further.
Individuals who engage in social media fall into two broad groups: highly engaged patients
who take an active role in their own health management (80%) versus individuals who lack the
conﬁdence to play an active role in their own health (20%). The opportunity lies in recognizing
these different groups and facilitating conversations that are tailored to each group’s needs,
which are very different. Pharma tends to focus on the larger, more capable patient segment.
However, the smaller group drives more than 70% of healthcare utilization and represents the
vast majority of lost opportunities due to lower compliance and persistency levels. This is an
audience that stands to beneﬁt tremendously from pharma’s responsible participation in the
Not everyone is comfortable opening Indicate how much you agree with the following reasons
up online and using social media to for not participating in social networking sites
discuss their condition. Most non- I rely on my doctor’s advice
engaged individuals felt a lack of trust 79%
in what others are saying and prefer I just don’t have the time 48%
their doctor’s advice over an online I don’t really trust what others are saying 43%
peer. The challenge to marketers is
to make social media sites a more I ﬁnd that there is too much information 23%
trustworthy source of information, I ﬁnd it hard to use the information 17%
perhaps through partnerships or third-
party endorsements. Another reason I ﬁnd it difﬁcult to use what I read 15%
for lack of participation was that
individuals just don’t have the time. If social media had more visible information and easier ways
to participate, perhaps more patients would engage more frequently.
Why is it important for patients to engage in social media? Epsilon’s research showed that
social media users are better equipped to manage their health and have more information and
understanding of what they are others like them are facing.
5. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
As individuals turn to social media to answer health questions or share experiences with
other users, what role can the pharmaceutical industry play, how can it get involved in the
dialogue? Consumers surveyed have mixed feelings about pharma’s participation in social
media—but perhaps an industry with such severe image problems should take those mixed
feelings as good news. Only 15% agreed that “healthcare companies are only looking out for
themselves;” the other 85% believed that pharma companies are at least partially acting in
the consumer’s best interests.
Which of the following statements do you most agree with (re: how
pharmaceutical companies should participate on websites and social media)?
40% Healthcare companies are
looking out for my best interests
Healthcare companies care about my
best interests but also have their own
interests in mind
Healthcare companies care little about
my best interests and mostly looking
out for themselves
44% Healthcare companies are only looking
out for themselves
To what degree would the following site sponsors lend credibility
to the healthcare content that you look at?
HC Non Proﬁt FDA 3rd Party Pharma Co.
The study showed that consumers are not resistant to pharma actively participating in social
media to some degree. Above all else, consumers would look to pharma to vet other users’
comments for accuracy. For example, when consumers read a post about a medication
concern 45% would like someone to validate the accuracy of that comment. The same is true
of discussions about drug side effects. When asked, “If you were to talk about side effects
associated with your medication, what role do you expect the pharmaceutical company to
play?” 55% of respondents expect the pharma company to let them know if the information
is correct. Pharma isn’t alone in having a responsibility to validate information in the
social space. The study showed that other types of site sponsors that don’t face the same
regulatory burden as pharma—the FDA and nonproﬁts—could add even more credibility to
6. STRATEGY AND ANALYTICS / TARGETING / CREATIVE / TECHNOLOGY / DIGITAL
Which of the following reactions do you have when reading a post
about a concern someone has about their medication?
I’d like for someone to validate that the 45%
comment is correct
I take the comment with a grain of salt 38%
I feel as though I’m better informed
about medication choices 31%
I feel as though I need to get 30%
someone else’s opinion
None of the above 12%
If you were to talk about side effects associated with your medication, what
role would you expect the pharmaceutical company to play?
I expect them to let me know if the 55%
information is correct
I expect for them to provide me with a 32%
perspective of the comment
I don’t expect the pharma company 26%
to have any role
None of the above 8%
THE RX FOR CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT
Social media efforts should be designed to drive both an informed and proactive patient.
Patients who are participating in social media have already taken the ﬁrst step. This research
indicates that pharmaceutical companies should take a balanced approach that provides
foundational information and emotional support with unbiased advice and guidance.
It is not simply about treatment options. By working with the right site sponsors, pharma
can add credibility to healthcare content and offer peace of mind for patients struggling to
manage their health. An understanding of what patients are talking about (e.g., medication
side effects) will also help pharma get involved in the discussion. As social media expands,
monitoring these conversations manually will become increasingly difﬁcult. With the
appropriate technology and tools, discussions can be more easily followed and pharma can
understand the needs of their patients to effectively engage with them across all channels.
Epsilon’s 2010 pharma and social media study was conducted online in March 2010 by
eRewards of Dallas, TX. The study compiles data from 1350 consumers in the United States.