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How pharma brands can embrace social media without the risk

How pharma brands can embrace social media without the risk


Practical tips on how your pharma brand can confidently include social media in the digital marketing mix, without the risk of fines for breaching adverse event reporting regulations.
Last Updated: 13-Feb-2019

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”– Buddha

Being healthy isn’t a new trend but it seems more of us than ever before are striving to be healthier as we reach for this ‘greatest gift’. We’re also taking more prescribed treatments than ever before. According to NHS Digital, a total of 1.1 million prescriptions were dispensed last year - a rise of 47 per cent in a decade.

Achieving ‘contentment’ meanwhile, appears to come from knowing as much as possible about our health – making the internet a key source of information for patients. Rather than wait for a doctor’s appointment, nearly 60% of Europeans now seek out health information and drug queries online.

As for ‘faithfulness’, there is surely an opportunity for pharmaceutical brands to form a relationship with consumers online, in particular on social media.

But pharmaceutical brands can’t embrace social media in the same way as brands in non-regulated industries. Instead, strict attention needs to be paid to what is said, how it’s phrased, and the comments posted by users. The social networks themselves are also constantly changing, which can create curveballs for brands, such as when Facebook stopped brands being able to turn off comments on their pages last year.

Despite this, there are pharma brands that are using social media to their advantage – while keeping very clearly on the right side of EMA and FDA regulations.

The secret to being successful on social media

AstraZeneca is one such example. This pharmaceutical company has proved that an unbranded social page encourages consumers to share experiences and opinions. Its Protect #LittleLungs campaign has already helped new parents in 12 US states and been short-listed for a 2017 Cannes Lions Health Award. The Facebook community raises awareness of RSV via shareable social images, a knitting drive to make items for babies in intensive care and a host of advocacy partners to help spread the word.

The latest influencer marketing trend has also proved effective for Allergan to launch its #EyePic campaign, as part of the preventable blindness initiative, See America. Partnering with television star, Milo Ventimiglia, professional footballer, Victor Cruz and actress, Alexandra Daddario, See America donated $10 for every ‘eye selfie’. In six weeks #EyePic was used nearly 14,000 times.

As the number of pharma companies successfully running social campaigns continues to rise, it is testament that brands can confidently adopt social media without being crippled by adverse event reports and regulatory fines. The secret to being successful on social is to be well prepared.

Staying compliant on social media

Any brand that runs a social media campaign will be exposed to ‘risky’ content – i.e. user-generated content that could harm their brand. For pharma brands there is a very specific risk to be aware of however – adverse events.

To ascertain the likelihood of an adverse event being reported by a customer on your social media pages, our research division, Crisp Labs, looked at content posted on the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies’ social pages over the last year.

We analysed 83,375 items of user-generated content across 30 different pages. Overall, we found that 1 in 13 comments (7.9%) were categorized as ‘posing risk’ to the brands in question. This actually compares well with other industries where risky content can be as high as 30%.

Delving deeper, we found that adverse events represented a significant proportion (29%) of these risks.

This presents an interesting dilemma for pharma brands. On one hand, the percentage risk of an adverse event being posted is low (equating to 1 in every 44 posts overall) but, due to volume of content being posted, this equates to thousands of adverse events. That is like trying to find multiple needles in one very large haystack.

5 steps to managing adverse event reporting

It is essential therefore that pharma brands who use social media have a knowledgeable team who are trained in the latest regulations and are alert around the clock to spot adverse events (AE) in a busy feed. With hefty fines for failure to report just one AE, we recommend that pharma companies or their agencies have the following steps in place:

  1. Monitor – have a strong monitoring service in place that captures ALL content so nothing is missed
  2. Moderate – ensure content is assessed by trained moderators who understand the full context of an adverse event
  3. Review – confirm initial analysis to ensure correct classification
  4. Alert – ensure your Drug and Safety team is alerted to the adverse event in a timely manner
  5. Report – raise the Adverse Event via your reporting system – i.e. a Patient Safety Reporting Portal

How to extend your online brand protection

Although it is essential not to miss an AE on your platform, it’s also important to remember that there are other types of user-generated content that can pose a risk to your brand, so it pays to also monitor for all these risks:

Customer questions - 17% of risky posts: Customers naturally pose questions directly to a brand on social media. Pharma companies need a good monitoring service to catch these posts and a pre-agreed strategy for how teams respond.

Spam and scams - 11% of risky posts: Pharma companies need to be especially careful as spam links could lead to sites selling fake goods. Counterfeit drugs represent one of the biggest issues for pharma companies today, with between 8% and 15% of all medicines estimated to be counterfeit. As customers are not aware they are taking fake drugs, brands can see an increase in negative comments and adverse events on social media.

Brand attacks & PR issues - 10% of risky posts: Health is such an emotive issue that pharma brands can be attacked by users who are unhappy with the brand, e.g. their product testing process or perceived efficacy of a drug. When this happens, social media teams need to respond quickly at any time of day or night before the event impacts on the company’s reputation and causes long-term damage to the bottom line.

With the above risks in mind, and the right processes in place, it’s clear that pharma brands can confidently include social media in the digital marketing mix without the risk and worry of offending audiences or encountering fines for breaching regulations.

Find out more about Crisp’s end-to-end adverse event management and reporting service here.

Emma Monks is Crisp’s Head of Trust and Safety. Crisp works with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, ensuring their multiple drug brands comply with adverse event reporting in accordance with EMA and FDA guidelines.