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The Social Way to Success


India Pharma Inc needs to leverage the potential of social media to up its game in times to come

Social media, a confluence of technology, data and relationships — the powerful triad for value creation, is helping organisations across sectors create exponential value and causing the emergence of new business models. Recognising its tremendous potential, global pharmaceutical giants like Boehreinger Ingelheim, Pfizer, Novartis, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, GSK and others are also investing a huge chunk of money and leveraging social media to obtain market intelligence, acquire real time customer feedback, disseminate disease awareness and measure brand equity with healthcare professionals. A survey from Indegene titled, ‘The Digital Savvy Pharma Marketer, 2016′ predicts that 19 per cent of the global pharma marketers’ budget would be reserved for spending on non-personal digital channels with social media, mobile apps, and HCP portals topping the list. The study also foretells an increase in social media preference by 38.2 per cent by 2018.

Wariness prevails

The story seems to be slightly different on the domestic front. ‘The Indian Pharma Digital Health Report 2015’, highlighted that despite maintaining presence in various social media platforms, the level of consumer engagement was quite low among the Indian pharma majors. The study by a digital agency called D Yellow Elephant, which analysed 40 pharma companies in India across 10 key digital parameters, ranging across websites, apps and social media platforms, also pointed out:

  • Just nine out of 40 companies had score above 50 out of 100
  • India-specific Facebook page was being operated by only eight companies
  • Despite a high presence on Google+, only one company was active
  • Twitter showcases 52 per cent active management (India and global handles)
  • LinkedIn emerged as the most popular social media platform, but only 14 companies were active

Shackles to break

Thus, it is clear that the pharma industry in India is yet to unlock the full potential of social media. So, what have been the deterrents? To name a just a few:

Chandu Mukkavalli

Stringent regulatory framework: The constraints of operating in a regulated environment is another major reason why India Pharma Inc is wary of taking the plunge into social media despite wetting its toes. As Chandu Mukkavalli, Partner-Advisory Services, EY points out, “It (the pharma industry) is highly regulated with tight guidelines on advertisement of drugs, essentially it shouldn’t violate ‘Drugs and Magic Remedies Act’, and ‘Code of Marketing Practice’.”

Uncertain RoI: Another significant hurdle in the adoption of the medium has been the inability to adequately measure return on investment (RoI) after using these new channels. It is difficult to gauge the  value of a tweet or a post shared as compared to clicks on an ad. It makes an industry as traditional as pharma, reluctant to invest in channels which do not offer clear RoI. The Indegene study also points out the difficulties faced by pharma companies in implementing multi-channel marketing campaigns.

Lack of tech savviness: A PwC report points out, “the acceptance of the digital platform for marketing purposes has been rather high in other industries, in comparison to pharma industry. This can be assumed as the reason why the pharma industry is being cautious in its use. Mukkavalli also states, “Technology adoption by physicians, patients, and communities needs to significantly improve to optimise the value of social media platforms and engage effectively. Safeguarding personal information is of key importance that could be between pharma organisations and healthcare institutions, patients and physicians among others. This would include cyber challenges posed by social engineers and other variants.”

Dinesh Chindarkar

Lack of trust: Dinesh Chindarkar, Co-Founder and Director, MediaMedic Communications lists the conservative mindset of the pharma industry coupled with fear of regulatory as the main deterrent. Industry sources also reveal that the pharma industry is leery of data provided on social media being  misused or used out of context. At the same time, there are many studies which highlight that the information  provided by pharma companies has traditionally not been (and is still not) trusted. Thus, trust deficit is another deterrent in the adoption of social media.

Thus, major challenges continue to hinder the growth of social media in the pharma industry. Mukkavalli gives an overview of the situation and says, “Majority of the pharma companies in India, both multinational as well as domestic are yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel with regard to effectively leveraging digital and social media platforms. Most of the Indian pharma majors have a digital presence, however there are ample opportunities that are yet to be explored. For example, a recent study suggests that, only 30 per cent of total Indian pharma companies have an India-specific website.”

Unleashing its true power

Yet, the benefits of engaging this medium cannot be underestimated. Chindarkar elucidates, “Right from awareness campaigns that can help build a category, to seeking insights about consumer mind set, a lot of things can be achieved through social media. So, social media is here to stay, but how do pharma marketers decide to take advantage of it, is for them to decide.”

So, how pharma companies go about designing their strategy is key to unleashing the true potential of social media for optimal benefits. Let’s take a look at the major advantages that can be gained through a well-charted course.

Collecting insightful data: One of the major benefits offered by social media are the insights about customer needs, changing demands, behavioural patterns and new perspectives. “Social media analytics gives you the pulse of what consumers are thinking. So while traditional market research responses have limitations, spontaneous reactions, tweets and expressions on social media provides deeper insights into the consumer mindset, which are contextual too,” explains Chindarkar. “This medium will help in gaining consumer/ patient sentiment insights, overall categories – specific products, obtain competitive intelligence, improve brand perception and market share,” informs Mukkavalli.

Building a community: Social media offers the advantage of building a community which can  become the “public voice” as pharma businesses continue to expand. “Develop a stronger social media presence in collaboration with key opinion leaders to educate communities in therapeutic areas which they did not have access to before the dawn of social media,” advises Mukkavalli.

Tracking the trends: It is one of the best mediums to be at par with the trends and shifts in the pharma industry.  It is also a legit way of keeping track of competition. Thus, social media can serve as a compass which can lead businesses in the right direction for growth. “The pharma industry is witnessing major transformations day in and day out, with revelations and cures that are dynamic. Prevailing models are hospital and physician-driven but they also present an opportunity to revolutionise and create more effective healthcare solutions by leveraging the power of digital and social media channels,” opines Mukkavalli. He further states, “Social media listening during the product launch will help understand patient and physicians expectations for safety and pricing. This would also help in managing stakeholder expectations and effectively engage with them.” Chindarkar reiterates, “Social media listening is an exciting initiative that a lot of pharma companies are getting into. The ‘SoLoMo’ concept, which is ‘Social’, ‘Local’ and ‘Mobile’ context will play a key role in developing relevant information from the data derived from analytics.”

Engaging the customers: Companies can gather data about demographics and customer preferences to create  targeted growth strategies. Social media is also the right platform for targeted advertisements towards the right audience. Thus, it also offers a lot of business intelligence which could be priceless in today’s age. “Social media is about people and their emotions, so within healthcare how can pharma companies think beyond the pill and look at supporting and actively engaging with its customer – the doctor, and the end consumer – the patient (without directly promoting the brand), is the real key,” points out Chindarkar.
Thus, if leveraged well, market intelligence garnered by monitoring and analysing user-generated content, can initiate a strategic shift in the operational model of pharma companies which would be beneficial for the industry and the consumers.

Fortunately, while there is a long way to go as far as tapping its true potential is concerned, there have been some excellent examples of deploying social media to very good effect, both globally and in India. Let’s take a look at some of these examples;

Boehringer Ingelheim: #COPDChat

Boehringer Ingelheim(BI), a leading biotech company has been at the forefront when it comes to embracing social media.  Active on eight out of the 10 social networks, the company has earned the distinction of being a leader in the social media space. Its social media strategies have earned accolades from different quarters. A recent one has been the award as the Social Media Pharma Company of the Year at the PM Society’s Digital Awards 2016 at The Brewery in London.

20170331ep10Campaign: Tweetchats hosted by the company with specific topics and hashtags, including #COPDchat and #ChatAFib won widespread attention. #ChatAFib, its first tweet chat, was held at the European Society of  Cardiology Congress in September 2013. HCPs, patients and patient groups and the company participated in the initiative which was repeated in 2014 with increased levels of participation. Several #COPDChat chats, were held in collaboration with Professor Andrew McIvor, a key opinion leader during the European Respiratory Society Congress (ERSC) in 2013.

20170331ep11Impact: Twitter itself highlighted one of them as good business practice. The popular social media platform highlighted that BI gained recognition as an industry leader in the digital arena. Reportedly, the strategy resulted in a seven per cent jump in the number of people following the company and in the course of the ERSC campaign, the company  received tweet chat impressions of  1.7 million. The case study also demonstrates how the company effectively leveraged the platform to engage medical journalists, pulmonologists, general practitioners and digital opinion leaders in conversations on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Thus, the company effectively used Twitter to trigger conversations, spread health awareness and engage a niche audience. The success of the campaign rests on the fact that key stakeholders were the pivot around which it revolved and this made it  a very successful solution in the highly regulated biopharma industry.


Dr Reddy’s Laboratories: #DontQuit

Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, a leading Indian pharma company are one of the companies mobilising the power of social media to  engage with their various stakeholders globally. Active on most of the key platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram, the company talks about  latest updates and innovations, awards, employee stories, health information, disease awareness, etc. it utilises formats such as Twitter polls, employee testimonials, Facebook tagging and story sharing to spread its messages.


Calvin Printer

Dr Reddy’s initiated a campaign called #DontQuit to observe World No Tobacco Day and sought to sensitise people on the importance of quitting tobacco in a counter-intuitive way. The communication used for the campaign highlighted the benefits of ”NOT QUITTING”  on life by QUITTING TOBACCO. To back the campaign, quotes from doctors in different regions were included in the communication that was geo-targeted to different areas. Every piece of communication was clubbed with different messages in order to make it resonate with the relevant target audience. For eg: #DontQuit on Loved ones, Quit Tobacco.


Reportedly, the campaign saw more than 50,000 impressions over a span of two days in the southwest region of the country with more than 7000 post engagements. The NorthEast region also saw more than 85,000 impressions and more than 9,000 post engagements. While this was backed by minimal media spends on Facebook, the campaign was well received with high interactions on all platforms. This campaign also served as a prelude to a more detailed campaign focussing only on lung cancer a few months later. The nature of this campaign was, once again,  a series of geo-targeted videos reaching out to educate the audience on myths, facts and a more in-depth understanding of lung cancer. This campaign spanned over a period of three weeks and lead to more than 10,00,000 impressions in the period with almost 3,00,000 interactions. The primary intent of our presence on social media is to keep our stakeholders informed and engaged in a way that it provides them a clear understanding of who we are as a company, and about the work we do. Our Facebook page has grown over the last year, with a 200% growth in reach and in engagement of posts. Our Twitter and LinkedIn handles have also seen an exponential growth of almost 600 per cent and almost 60 per cent respectively.


Cipla: #UquitIQuit

Prabir Jha

Cipla is another Indian pharma major making serious inroads into social media. It has an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. The company’s social media architecture has interesting diversity as it has dedicated handles for businesses (Cipla South Africa, Cipla Biotec), Corporate Social Responsibility (Cipla Foundation), (Cipla Archives) and long-running awareness/ education campaigns (Breathefree). Spearheaded by Prabir Jha, Global Chief People Officer, Cipla, a leading exponent of digital platforms in communications, the company is harnessing the strength of social media to make it a pillar of its communications strategy. Dr Usha Iyer, a part of Cipla’s Corporate Communication team has also played a pivotal role in executing Cipla’s social media strategy.


An interesting example of their initiatives would be the #UQuitIQuit campaign led by the Cipla Nicotex team. Its success is evident from the fact that it won Gold at the 2015 Effie India Awards in the Healthcare category beating off  strong competition. The company took a lot of pride in the achievement as it was Cipla Consumer Healthcare Division’s first marketing campaign for its very first product. #UQuitIQuit was conceptualised as an initiative to get India to quit smoking, where participants helped their loved ones in their journey to quit smoking by quitting a bad habit of their own. This movement was planned and executed on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. This, along with celebrity endorsements and activations, drove awareness and generated high participation. It was also supported by communication on various touch points such as the TV, the radio, the news, etc.


The response to the initiative was overwhelming with 80,000 users joining the movement from across the country and 1.8 crore views of the communication, strongly reinforcing Cipla’s efforts to make India smoking-free. Nicotex has made a huge impact on the markets where it has been launched, and is now helping thousands to quit smoking.

Looking ahead

Each of these examples served to highlight effective use of social media forums to educate, inform and engage their target audience  about worthy causes. At the same time, these campaigns helped to build conversations, create a connect with their consumers and increase their followers across various platforms. They clearly demonstrate the power and the potential of social media to drive consumer behaviour and shape opinions.

Moreover, experts point out that challenges faced by the industry can actually be negated through social media. For instance, to improve pharmacovigilance, by encouraging sharing and analysis of information on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter. These platforms can also help to encourage adverse effect reporting of medicines and thereby lead to enhancement of quality in the processes of the pharma industry.

Luckily, it seems that the industry is cautiously but definitely edging towards widespread adoption of these platforms, especially because of growing patient-centricity in the life sciences sector. As Chindarkar highlights, “Pharma companies are now a lot more open to newer media and are shedding their traditional mindset.” Printer also opines, “I believe that there is a lot of interesting work that pharma companies globally are doing in the area of patient awareness and disease management. This trend is on a rise.”

Thus, it is clear that social media is here to stay and the pharma sector in India should responsibly engage in it with the the right tools and analytics capabilities, to enter the next sphere of growth. Moderating the content, creating a sound social media policy, being creative etc would be key to emerging as leaders in this space.

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