Pharma—To tweet, or not to tweet?
See how the pharmaceuticals industry can find its rightful place in this brave new world.
Twitter has openly embraced the unimportant. It is the foundation upon which it was built in the first place. We all have that innate desire to inform the
online eyes and ears of our friends, families, and perfect strangers about the most painstakingly trivial personal information.
But Twitter’s not all bad (or boring). It also gives us the ability to plug ourselves into the world. Tweet by tweet, we can receive real-time information
about anything, from the most absurd to the most important: from what we had for breakfast to what medicine has or hasn’t worked for our health
condition—everything is on the table online.
This is our brave new world
The pharmaceuticals industry has a rightful place in this new world. There is a wealth of drug and patient education just waiting to emerge from the
industry, but with a skittish U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaving blurry if not non-existent lines about what pharmaceutical companies can and
cannot do, there is great hesitation to do much of anything at all.
Online, patients are delivering tiny bursts of information about their lives for all to see, including their symptoms, how good their doctors are, what
drugs they’re taking, and offering each other unwavering emotional support. These conversations arise and disappear quickly. And like any social media
outlet, the information people are swapping isn’t always correct, and can even be misleading, which can be damaging, considering about 60 percent of
Americans turn to the internet first when they’re seeking health information.
Gathering incorrect information about a drug or condition can lead patients or family members to disregard important facts about the care and treatment of
their loved one or themselves. In turn, they may make poor health care decisions in the future.
This is why the pharmaceutical industry should be involved in these discussions. It borders on having a responsibility to provide patients or potential
patients with factual information about their products. It’s also helpful to offer the tools and resources that many marketing campaigns provide, like
symptom trackers, support and financial resources, and access to patient ambassadors who speak from their personal, verified experience with specific
What is pharma tweeting?
After reviewing pages upon pages of pharmaceutical twitter channels, several themes consistently arose. If pharmaceutical companies can’t talk directly
about their drugs, they’re dead set on trying their best to improve their image and boost awareness about what’s to come. The common tweet topics included:
What companies they’re collaborating with (often research oriented)
The charities and philanthropic endeavors they’re donating to or participating in
Current data and analysis about clinical trial results
Health tips for various conditions
Drivers that help flow their followers to their corporate websites
Re-tweets of patient testimonials regarding their condition, not their treatment
Links to interesting studies or topics in the health care field
Much of the information that the various pharma channels shared was interesting and informative. Surprisingly, one of the more powerful, unexpected tools
was the ability to re-tweet. This allows companies to share information about conditions and the personal experiences of others without tweeting it
themselves, which may be reviewed more leniently by the FDA (there’s no way to be sure). If they’re not affiliated or responsible for a given tweet, simply
sharing it is a great way to link their followers to information they may not feel comfortable tweeting themselves.
Engagement is a good thing
An engaged patient is an empowered patient. This goes for caregivers and health care providers as well. Promoting a drug to boost engagement of any kind in
the health care arena seems to be a beneficial addition to the Twitterverse. It promotes the drug, yes, but it also starts a conversation between patients,
a patient and his or her doctor, or concerned and interested parties. This can lead to a more engaged industry and public, overall. Additionally, these
followers are willingly following their chosen channels. As long as the information they are provided with by a corporation is correct, it should be fair
We need to catalyze the conversation, not shy away from it. More likely than not, this will entail using the knowledge and understanding we currently have
about promoting and marketing drugs, and applying it as seamlessly as we can into the social media abyss. Still, more guidance, if not a green light from
the FDA, is needed first.
Chelsea Foster is a copywriter at DKI Healthcare Relationship Marketing. As a biology graduate, she loves working in pharma and learning about new
drugs and clinical studies.
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