Patient Engagement

4 innovative campaigns that have pushed pharma social media forward

In the grand experiment that is healthcare social media, there have certainly been some hits and misses.

The lack of clarity around the ROI in social media for pharmaceutical companies (or anywhere, really) in combination with a lack of comprehensive guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration makes its ground on which drug companies for the most part have tiptoed. But among removed Facebook pages and shuttered YouTube accounts, a few companies have taken risks and shown us what value social media can have for pharmas.

Below are four examples of campaigns that have helped push pharmaceutical social media forward. Agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Boehringer Ingelheim — Drive4COPD

A public health initiative started in 2010 by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, this campaign has a clear call to action: get screened.

Aside from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr accounts, the campaign included a clever virtual Twitter race that put celebrity ambassadors Danica Patrick and Patty Loveless against each other to see who could drive the most visitors to the campaign’s online screener. Since the start of the campaign, more than 2.5 million people have done the online screening. The campaign also included a songwriting contest that drew more than 150 entries.

“A clear objective and call to action, the use of celebrities for added appeal, and the use of a wide variety of social channels make this one a winner,” said Wendy Blackburn, who blogs at ePharma RX and is the executive vice president of the digital pharmaceutical marketing agency Intouch Solutions.

In another smart move, the pharmaceutical company recently handed over the initiative to the nonprofit COPD Foundation.

Sanofi Diabetes US

It had some mishaps, including shutting down its GoInsulin and WhyInsulin YouTube pages, but Sanofi Diabetes gets credit for experimenting with ways to engage patients in the tricky space. Its efforts have included the Discuss Diabetes Blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and free online education sessions for patients.

The company has also taken some good steps toward transparency by introducing the voice behind its social media presence and sharing insights on how community engagement has impacted the company.

In April of this year, Sanofi launched Diabetapedia, a searchable resource for commonly used diabetes terms. Visitors can participate by suggesting entries, including offbeat topics like jargon, slang and Twitter hashtags, as long as they’re not tied to specific brand names of diabetes products.

“[They have] taken risk on behalf of the industry in making true two-way connections with patients,” Blackburn said (disclosure: Sanofi Diabetes US is a client of Intouch).

Novo Nordisk — Race with Insulin

This campaign is an important milestone in the evolution of pharmaceutical social media. Rather than pushing press releases and company news, Novo Nordisk created one of the industry’s earliest Twitter accounts to leverage the celebrity  of IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball (who it sponsors) to reach its target audience.

Research conducted by the company found IndyCar fans to be 23 percent more likely to have diabetes, which makes them a good target for marketing messaging. So, starting in 2009, Kimball began using the @racewithinsulin Twitter account to tweet about racing, life with type 1 diabetes and using Novo Nordisk’s products to manage the disease. This was a big leap, given the lack of guidance and experience with pharmaceutical social media at the time.

Today, it appears that Kimball talks almost entirely about racing on the account, but he is still sponsored by Novo Nordisk and the page still contains information about NovoLog insulin.

AstraZeneca — Prescription assistance program

One of the Big Pharmas that kept its Facebook open when others removed theirs in light of Facebook’s open-comment policy change, AstraZeneca took a big step on Twitter last year. It opened the door for real-time conversation on social media by hosting a Twitter chat about patient prescription programs using the #rxsave hashtag.

The purpose of the tweet chat was twofold: get people talking about the company’s prescription assistance program, and listen in order to help find ways to reach more patients who are eligible for the program. The chat reportedly engaged hundreds of participants that includes  patients, patient advocacy groups, healthcare professionals and industry observers.

“AstraZeneca uses social media to reach patients to help them pay for the medications and also help ensure side effects are carefully and properly tracked and reported,” Blackburn said. “They also have click-to-chat customer service functionality on several branded websites.”

[Photo from Pharma7cee]

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