Case Study: Social media and the pharmaceutical industry


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The Social Studies Group used Brandwatch to better engage with online communities discussing a specific genetic disorder. More info here:

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Case Study: Social media and the pharmaceutical industry

  1. 1. Case Study/ Pharmaceutical Research The Social Studies Group Leverages Social Analytics to Better Engage with Online Communities
  2. 2. Company: The Social Studies Group Headquarters: Washington, DC Audience: Consumer Brands Industry: Social Media Research Website: Services: Social Media Research, Marketing & Branding Strategy Brandwatch Services: Social Media Monitoring and Analytics The Goal/ Understand the Online Community Surrounding a Genetic Disorder Referring to themselves as “Nerds with Panache,” The Social Studies Group (SSG) is a social media research firm with a seasoned team that brings over five decades of marketing and branding strategy to each engagement. This enables the firm to gather the right intelligence and deliver meaningful results for companies seeking more knowledge in the area of consumer research. Recently, SSG was approached by a public relations firm for a major pharmaceutical company. The PR firm had been tasked with managing the social media efforts related to a genetic disorder that the pharmaceutical company’s drug treats. The PR firm had three specific social media goals: 1. To identify the true discussions taking place about the disorder from patients, caregivers, and medical practitioners. 2. To engage, where appropriate, in online discussions regarding the disorder. 2. To gain immediate awareness of any attitude shifts and changes in the marketplace. The pharmaceutical industry still awaits definitive guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar European agencies regarding how Pharma companies can use social media. Because of strict rules and tight timetables for reporting adverse effects currently in place by the FDA, the firm wanted to be alerted immediately if any adverse effect messaging came to light, and because of tight restrictions, this monitoring project was a daily job. The Challenge/ Isolating Relevant Discussion from the Online Noise To date, the PR firm had been unable to discern a substantial amount of legitimate online conversations relevant to the genetic disorder or its client’s drug. “This wasn’t for a lack of data,” explained Wendy Scherer, Managing Partner of SSG. “A social media search of almost any genetic disorder turns up a massive amount of spam, links, sales pitches for remedies – you name it.” Using standard social searches, the PR firm had been unable to isolate the legitimate discussions around the disorder or their client’s drug and hoped that SSG’s in-depth experience at detailed social research would yield better results. Of utmost importance was being able to call attention to – and separate out – the most authentic consumer/patient/caregiver stories and content. Project leaders at SSG knew they had to delve broad and deep on their social media searches – and then perform complex queries against the data to surface only the pertinent discussions about the genetic disorder and the company’s drug. Social Research Reveals Product Attitudes & Informs Strategy Key Results/ Case Study/ The Social Studies Group About/ The Social Studies Group • Identified the concerns and sentiments of drug stakeholder groups involved in online discussions • Informed PR firm and pharmaceutical company strategy of best ways to engage online communities • Categorized discussions in multiple ways for ongoing market research and marketing improvement Locating the most authentic consumer and carer conversations
  3. 3. A Best Practices Approach to Social Pharmaceutical Research SSG had been using Brandwatch for other clients’ complex social searches because of the tool’s unique capabilities for scanning social media in both a broad and exacting manner. “Brandwatch is the ideal tool for Pharma-related searches,” said Scherer. “It unveils all the online venues where health discussions are happening, from Facebook and Twitter to health advocacy forums and professional association blogs. It then allows us to look at the data in any number of ways.” SSG began the project by using Brandwatch to establish a benchmark for ongoing social analysis of the pharmaceutical brand, its drug, and the genetic disorder in question. This was a critical first step, as the benchmark would inform results of the daily research and monitoring that was required by the PR firm. It also provided a brand audit of the pharmaceutical company and its competitors, including those that did not offer a drug for the disorder in question. “Having baseline data would help us more readily identify spikes in daily conversation and shifts in sentiment toward all brands as time passes,” explained Scherer. “It would also help keep a pulse on the best places to engage in discussions when appropriate.” The second major step in the process was to separate social search results into logical groupings – we’ve included sample discussion categories on the right. Having results sorted into categories would enable SSG, the PR firm, and the pharmaceutical company to explore trends more deeply and to more quickly notify specific groups within the company should issues arise. The SSG team also created additional queries in Brandwatch to monitor the pharmaceutical pipeline with working code names for the products and company names in combination with researched condition keywords. Improved Community and Category Insights Because SSG applied its best practices to refining the searches around the pharmaceutical brand and the genetic disorder in question, many surprising and useful findings emerged. A significant finding pertained to the pharmaceutical brand itself. Once SSG had removed all news, press releases, and other marketing data, they discovered a surprisingly modest amount of social conversation about the brand and competitive products. SSG found that most discussion centered on the personal side of the disorder, with the top three categories surfacing this way: 1. Parents discussing their children who have the disorder, including the trials and tribulations the children endure. 2. Recommendations about whom to contact for “putting a face” to the disorder. 2. Notification and logistics about fundraising events. With this information in hand, the PR firm was able to set an appropriate strategy for engaging with the social community of stakeholders that surround the disorder. “It’s a huge benefit to know where the parents and children are coming from and what they care about most,” said Evans. “It informs the company how to speak to the community in a positive way.” Daily review of the social search results in Brandwatch provided ample notice for any adverse effect reports. Moreover, SSG was able to alert the PR firm of changes in the pipeline for the disorder extremely early in the process. “SSG has demonstrated that there’s a lot that pharmaceutical companies can do on social media today to understand the markets and stakeholders surrounding their current and future drugs,” said Scherer. “Pharmaceutical companies that start understanding their social community today will be ready when the FDA and EU-based regulatory agencies provide social media guidelines.” This would help them understand the ongoing competitive market dynamics. To obtain the most thorough results, SSG set up complex queries, tags, and rules in the Brandwatch platform, such as the following example: The third step SSG took focused on cleaning and refining the data. The volume of data around the general disorder conversation was so great that SSG had to take the additional step of cleansing the incoming data. As soon as SSG spotted patterns, they performed a more in-depth manual review of the data to verify assumptions. Next, they refined queries via excludes and applied additional rules for tagging, categorization, and type of user (e.g., patient, professional, caregiver) to analyze, in real time, the data, sources, and sentiment. “We used excruciating care to bring in results as cleanly as possible,” said analyst Megan Evans. “This is where the rubber meets the road when surfacing true insights from social media.” Case Study/ The Social Studies Group Broad and Exacting Social Searches. The Results/The Solution/ ((condition) AND (pipeline OR “clinical trial*” OR “FDA approval”~3 OR ((development) NEAR/5 (drug OR pharmaceutical OR treatment OR Rx)) caregiver commentary fundraising trade commentary drug applications patient experience condition awareness Brand X sentiment Brand Y pipeline commentary available drugs
  4. 4. About/ About The Social Studies Group The Social Studies Group ( is a market research firm that specializes in using social media conversations and visual content to help companies better understand their customers, competitors, markets and industries. Custom service offerings include netnography (virtual ethnography), identifying and analyzing niche communities and influencers; comparative linguistic analyses of social media used for organizational and brand messaging; creating “universes” that can be monitored and analyzed over time; and in-depth social media monitoring for knowledge accumulation and analyses. For more information, please visit About Brandwatch Brandwatch is a leading provider of social media monitoring and analytics solutions. More than 700 global brands and agencies use Brandwatch, relying on a broad range of social coverage and highly reliable, spam-free data to monitor online conversations. As a result, organizations can glean insights around their brand interests, conduct market research, predict market trends, and more actively engage influencers, customers and prospects. A global company, Brandwatch is headquartered in Brighton, UK and has offices in the United States and Germany. For more information, please visit @Brandwatch | Brandwatch Blog | Brandwatch Fan Page “It’s a huge benefit to know where the parents and children are coming from and what they care about most” Wendy Scherer, Managing Partner, The Social Studies Group