Social Media Purpose: Finding a Path to Engagement for Healthcare & Pharma Brands

By Matt Noe, Strategy Director, MEplusYOU and Amber Benson

As an active participant in the never-ending discussion of social media guidance for pharmaceutical companies, MEplusYOU (formerly imc² health & wellness) is proud to be a member of the Digital Health Coalition (DHC). The DHC is a confederation of forward-thinking pharmaceutical and biotech brand managers and agency leaders who share a common goal: to move the industry forward in its use of emerging technologies, platforms, and channels through the power of consensus.

This year’s working session used crowdsourcing to address issues of roles and responsibilities, tools, and cultural shifts that must occur if the industry wants to leverage social media to connect with patients and professionals. Best-in-class examples of social media usage by pharmaceutical companies were also presented, but unfortunately, what passes for best-in-class in pharmaceutical marketing, looks and feels like social strategies from an aged time capsule.

During the closing panel session, which included industry experts from Google, biopharmaceutical leader Gilead, and digital health agency KlickHealth, the root of the industry’s paralysis became clear. We still view these platforms as just another channel for branded promotion. Even our corporate communications and “unbranded” campaigns carry the burden of directly supporting business objectives or potentially lose funding or executive support. As long as we are focused on “promotion,” we will forever be hamstrung by the FDA—by either their specific regulations or the regulatory quicksand of their lack of guidance.

At MEplusYOU, we believe there is an alternative path for the pharmaceutical industry in social media. One that transcends the stumbling blocks of important safety information placement, safe harbor statements, and contextual misinformation. That path is to find your purpose. By elevating the conversation above the brand name to the brand’s purpose, you not only know more about your core identity, but also your audience can immediately recognize why they should connect and engage with you.

Your brand’s purpose articulates why your product exists, not what your product does. Not even how your product works. It serves to communicate why you made it in the first place. Why you wake up in the morning. Why, on your brand’s best day, it makes the world a better place.

You may sell an overactive bladder drug. But your purpose might be to restore confidence and control.

You may sell a diabetes drug. But your purpose might be to destroy the victim mentality that leads to disempowerment.

You may sell an oncology drug. But your purpose might be to transform outcomes for people living with cancer.

Once you define your purpose, you know where you can add value and where to join and/or lead conversations. Instead of a corporate squawk box, you become a welcomed partner through authentic engagement. By using purpose as your rally point, the content you create will work to help:

  • Empathize – By creating a compelling and honest picture of life with your condition, you invite people to share the truth of their relationship (not with your brand, but with their condition) and how it affects those around them. You don’t have to script it. Just encourage it. And when the truth is revealed simply say, “We understand.”
  • Educate – Google’s David Blair shared that the majority of YouTube content being viewed is service content. Yet, people still look to social platforms to learn something they didn’t know. We know that medical literacy is low and that we trade in high science. There’s opportunity to build a better connection between doctor and patient to educate and we have the tools to build it.
  • Energize – Attract and inspire. By relating to people through common values, you can invigorate and inspire action, thus leading to more involved, sustainable brand-customer relationships. When we worked with Secret deodorant, a low-engagement category if ever there was one, we relied on purpose to elevate the conversation to a higher level. We rallied women from around the globe by focusing on the brand’s purpose, “to help women be more fearless,” instead of their product line. We engaged millions of fans on Facebook to the benefit of the brand’s bottom line without ever mentioning the brand.

Just imagine. What if your brand’s beliefs were so clearly articulated you never even had to mention your brand? That’s the power of purpose for pharmaceutical marketers. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s actually a quantum leap forward. Where your messages ring louder, your connections are stronger, and the FDA has little authority to stop you.

Our challenge to pharmaceutical marketers: find your purpose. It’s time to get fearless.

The Authors

Matt Noe
As a strategic leader at MEplusYOU (formerly imc²), Matt Noe is responsible for the development of consumer branding and digital strategies for the agency’s clients. He works to solve challenges and answer the needs of clients by developing a strategic framework and approach that considers the consumer journey, provides recommended integrated experiences, and tactical considerations.

Matt has a diverse client background ranging from marketing at a global QSR brand, to the highly-regulated world of healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing, and just about everything in between. As a self-proclaimed ‘geek’ and with a natural curiosity for all things digital, Matt adds value by curating and educating clients and internal account teams on the latest trends and research, as well as consulting on specialized initiatives for potential and current clients.

Amber Benson
Results-driven marketing executive and consultant with over thirteen years of varied and progressive experience in strategy development, digital marketing, e-commerce and corporate communications. Proven track record in exceeding business objectives with spot-on, insight-driven strategy and flawless, integrated creative execution. Dedicated to building succesful brands through design thinking, strategic intuition and relentless innovation.

Amber holds a degree in journalism and political science from Texas A&M University and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Design Management from Savannah College of Art and Design. When she’s not in Dallas, you’ll probably find her in Tennessee where she’s a card-carrying member of the Nashville Songwriters Association.

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Michael Spitz , known most often as just "Spitz," is Editor-in-Chief of the Pixels & Pills and a prollific tweeter, blogger, and article writer, active in digital health across all specialties. Follow him @SpitzStrategy.

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