Social media marketing can be a foreign set of words to any business owner, but for professionals in the pharmaceutical, biotech and life science sectors the term can be especially nerve-racking. Where do I start? Will I be divulging too much information? What products can I mention? Can I ask my followers questions? Will fan comments get me in hot water with the FDA? These are all valid concerns and should be taken into account during any social media marketing planning or strategy.

The important takeaway here is that you must start a social media campaign period. Peter Pitts, president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former associate commissioner at the FDA, points out, “FDA-phobia” virtually paralyzes every move pharma makes in social media. Although a recent analysis by Fleishman and Hillard of the 173 warning letters issued from 2008 to 2012 revealed only a single one directly tied to a pharma social media venture, the industry continues to do little but dabble in the medium, with proprietary, branded networks never genuinely crossing the line into real-time user-generated content sharing.”

However companies are still hesitant to take too many steps forward because of regulatory uncertainty. According to Bruce Grant, Senior Vice President, Business Strategy, Digitas Health, “People in pharma most frequently say they haven’t engaged in social media because they don’t think it works, they’re not sure they can find the ROI and they’re in a regulated industry. Ultimately though, all industries have had to deal with various barriers, and pharma is about three to five years behind other industries in its adoption of technologies and new marketing channels. The pharmaceutical industry needs to recognize that.”

For example, pharma may never be able to launch a viral marketing campaign under its industry regulatory burden. The industry can, however, take notes from other businesses on their social strategies, including how they handle conversations with patients and network with industry leaders. If the mission of the pharma industry is to improve health and wellness for patients worldwide, then social media is a great platform to facilitate and encourage open communication with a focus on consumer-driven innovation.

Tom Abrams, head of the FDA Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) recently stated the agency’s intention to meet the legally mandated July 2014 deadline for social media guidance. Reticent as to what it will exactly encompass, Abrams is insistent that issuance of guidance is among the highest of FDA’s priorities because social media helps provide good and useful information for public health.

Keep in mind, once you become comfortable with the idea of starting a social media campaign, you will be asked by your company executives to report on ROI with all that time you’re spending on the web. You will not be able to always show a direct return on investment via your efforts, but you can immerse your company in an active social community where your sales team can review data and forge ahead with a strategic sales, marketing and networking plan. Along the way, you can maintain social media reports either on a simple excel document or by using a social measuring tools like HubSpot or Hootsuite. There are dozens of affordable resources available that will make your life easier and report on your social media work in terms of awareness and online visibility.

As a lead generation company with many years of experience in sales, marketing and recruitment, social media is just another extension of our daily networking. Sales-Link recommends the following basic tips for launching a successful social media strategy:

  • Connect with people relevant to your company’s vision, mission, services and products. Seek out and connect with social influencers who tweet often and have a vast audience related to your company’s industry. Media, bloggers, CEOs and scientists are great social media leaders to follow and learn from.
  • Reach out to current and past clients and colleagues. Invite them to connect and follow your company on social networks (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter). Educate them on your projects and news. Make sure they are in the know first, and they will gladly support you by sharing posts and tweets, expanding your online reach. Always thank them for the support.
  • Poll people often about their preferred form of communication and needs. At Sales-Link we always want to hear from you – the Discovery/Laboratory/Bench Scientists, Preclinical/Nonclinical Directors, Research and Development VPs, Scientists and Directors, Clinical Directors and Post Marketing and Business Development Teams.

It’s not a chore, it’s a privilege to represent a company and speak openly and honestly about its services and products. You must take the role very seriously and abide by its guidelines for social sharing and company language. It’s fine to be casual in conversation on the web, but never speak off color or off topic. Positive images related to the geographic region your company is located can add a personal touch to a business page and also elevates you to a person not a machine. One of the problems with a person’s association with pharma/biotech companies on the web is that they feel they can’t relate to a person or a cause and that could not be further from the truth. In the end, we are part of a global mission to cure diseases and save lives so celebrate life and enjoy your time on Facebook, LinkedIn and the Twittersphere.

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