The increasingly important use of social media by the pharmaceutical industry is not only controversial, but hard to gauge. Although anxious about regulatory scrutiny, drugmakers are trying to reach more patients all the time. But the results are, not surprisingly, spotty. A recent survey found that 47 percent of so-called health activists - people who regularly participate in online health communities - have a negative view of pharma.
As for the rest, only 30 percent expressed a positive or very positive opinion and the remaining 23 percent were neutral, according to WEGO Health, an online health community, and the Digital Health Coalition, a non profit that includes Google and a few drugmakers, such as Novartis (NVS) and Sanofi (SNY), among other companies. Of course, one could say that such findings suggest fertile opportunity to improve perceptions.
But it will be hard work to convert some communities. The group that was the most negative was the autoimmune community, with 78 percent taking a jaundiced view; the least negative group, at 22 percent, was the fitness community. The most positive group? The anxiety community at 40 percent, and the least positive was the healthy living community, at 10 percent, which one could argue raises questions about their view on the role of medicine (please click on the chart for more community reactions).
We have "heard a consistent refrain: communities want companies to contribute critical information – and to help correct misinformation – in social media. The companies that do this well are few and far between, and they are garnering tremendous community trust with their efforts," WEGO Health ceo Jack Barrette writes us. "But those companies that are doing good work – making the regulatory and resource efforts to engage online communities – are starting to make companies that do not participate look bad."
Results concerning specific companies, however, were not available. A separate study by the Digital Health Coalition, in part, blames the FDA. More than 80 percent of 61 drug and device makers, healthcare agencies, technology companies and so-called thoughts leaders believe the lack of guidance from the agency has limited the ability to attempt innovative programs in social media. In fact, almost half of respondents say the legal and regulatory risks of using social medica outweigh the benefits of participation.
Other findings: the median budget allocation to digital, out of the total marketing budget, this year is 15 percent, with a 20 precent median expected in 2013. The biggest budget increase is expected for content for tablets and smartphones, and social media initiatives for consumers. Search has the highest level of perceived ROI, including paid search, search marketing and search engine optimization. And 81 percent of execs admit they are very far behind and 19 percent are slightly behind in social media when compared to other industries.
In addition, drug and device makers are more optimistic about mobile than social media - only 69 percent feel the industry is behind. To break that down, 25 percent say they are very far behind and 44 percent only slightly behind. And 55 percent agree that mobile is the future of drug and device advertising. Companies also report that the highest level of sophistication is associated with Facebook and YouTube (read here).
And here are some other interesting tidbits from the WEGO survey: 81 percent of those surveyed agreed that the use of social media by healthcare companies provides their communities with important updates on products or services, which is up 9 percent from a 2011 survey. Meanwhile, 66 percent called for regulation when companies pay for content to be placed in social media. And 80 percent believe companies should be held responsible for comments they make in social media, but they should not be held responsible for comments made by other consumers.