SOCAP International

What’s Holding Pharma Back From Social Customer Care?

The concerns may be real, but social media can be another tool in the arsenal to developing positive relationships with patients and caregivers.

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Recently, C3i Healthcare Connections completed a benchmarking report designed to evaluate the current life sciences social-media landscape. Not surprisingly, the survey of global pharma professionals found that a lingering apprehension over social platforms continues to shape social-media participation.


These concerns aren’t rooted in purely regulatory or operational factors either. For more than half of the survey respondents (53%), quantifying return on investment was a primary concern and the main reason why some companies are still hesitant to invest in social media. This is despite the fact that social media is an integral source of information sharing and gathering, especially among healthcare consumers.

Furthermore, when implemented as a tool to provide consumer support, effective social-media interactions can result in improved patient satisfaction, program adherence and consumer retention.

Shifting the Focus to the Patient

While the public relations and brand monitoring purposes of social media are more common among those who are currently participating on social media (used by 60% and 57% of survey respondents, respectively), the consumer care aspect of social media is often overlooked within the life sciences industry. Less than half of respondents—43%—are using social media for customer service, and even less, 40%, offer product inquiry support through social platforms.

Providing customer care via social media has not been a point of focus for the pharma industry. Yet today, consumer and patient expectations have been set by other industries, and social customer care has become the status quo. The survey found that patients are an “audience of interest,” with 60% of respondents currently targeting patients and another 13% planning to focus on patient engagement within the next 12 months.

(Keep in mind that these numbers reflect content development, not social interaction that would take place once a patient or caregiver posted a comment on the initial content.)

At a time when many pharmaceutical companies are seeking to become more patient-centered, not product-focused, social media can be another tool in the arsenal to developing positive relationships with patients and caregivers.

Outlining Strategy Before Interaction

Even within the highly regulated life sciences environment, it is possible to provide consumer care, with consideration to these strategic steps.

First, companies need to define clear expectations. Compliance within the regulatory framework is key. Some conversations simply cannot take place in public social forums, but others can. When developing a social-media customer care program, life sciences companies need to clearly outline the scope and parameters of social customer care efforts: the who (would be trained to interact), what (post can and cannot be responded to) and where (interaction can take place).

As in any public forum, documented engagement strategies should precede interaction. By developing specific guidelines that outline clear and consistent interaction, content approval, social adverse event identification and escalation procedures, pharma companies can adequately prepare for interaction on social media.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Once a plan is in place, remember to be flexible.
  • Prepare for live engagement by identifying expected inquiries and needs.
  • Develop preapproved response templates and provide training to empower support personnel to freely provide responses for standard requests.
  • Outline clear escalation procedures to expedite unique inquiries, keeping in mind that the traditional week-long approval processes just won’t cut it on social media.

Addressing Barriers to Implementation

Successful engagement initiatives often begin with a single brand or project. Companies interested in venturing into social consumer care are best suited to first test the waters with a limited scope to gain experience and hone in on best practices before expanding.

By The NumbersFor many, mapping out processes to logistically manage social-media activities (regarding consumer care, and beyond) can be daunting. This challenge is evident with 43% of survey respondents citing concerns with the volume of social-media posts and resources needed to monitor and engage, 36% citing concerns with integrating social media with other channels for insightful reporting, and 30% concerned with their ability to respond in a timely and consistent manner.

Perhaps these practical concerns stem from staffing issues, as the survey found that 40% of survey participants have no social-media roles staffed at all. Although other industries are rapidly expanding their social-media footprint—and are further along in defining social-media roles and support within their organizations—many within this industry are still in the process of identifying the best method for structuring social-media activities across brands and departments.

Integrating Customer Care to Improve Program Effectiveness

Relevant social participation is important, and the effectiveness of social programs is the true measure of success—and what will influence pharmaceutical companies to continue to adopt and advance their social-media programs. In the survey, respondents rated their own social program effectiveness, with a majority calling their programs “somewhat effective” (57%) and only 13% citing that their programs are “very effective” or “extremely effective."

Less than half of the respondents (40%) described their social-media programs as “effective” or better. This rating indicates an industry whose confidence in social media is still maturing, and points to the tremendous amount of opportunity to improve social-media presence and participation, including customer care programs. As experience with social listening, targeted content and valuable two-way interaction expands, the industry can expect to see greater confidence and success with social media.
Clearly Outline

John MacDanielJohn MacDaniel is senior director of digital and voice of the consumer at Telerx and has more than 25 years of experience in the contact center industry. Since 2008, he has focused on social media, and works with a number of Fortune 500 companies, helping them leverage their contact center operations to provide engagement and monitoring, and providing them a reporting solution that analyzes social media and traditional contact center activity.