Though slow on the uptake, pharma companies are well aware that they must find ways to utilise social media tools to engage with their customers and patients; they can't afford not to. However, this absence of regulatory control poses a significant problem; companies must be cautious. The industry is well aware that messages relating to brand name drugs should clearly disclose product benefits and risks, but with the limitations of Twitter and Facebook, for example, the provision of such information is impossible. So companies have been looking to alternative and more innovative methods to communicate.
Many have jumped on the patient communities bandwagon, developing forums that allow patients to learn and to communicate with each other. This kind of platform is powerful; not only does it provide a valuable service for patients, but it also gives companies invaluable information about patient experiences with its own as well as with competitor therapies. Meanwhile, the industry has also been taking advantage of the intelligence-rich physician communities, such as US-based Sermo and Mescape Physician Connect. While these services are free to physicians, the service providers sell access to data on doctors' conversations to pharma companies, according to a recent report by Ernst & Young (Progressions Pharm 3.0). Though this strategy carries some ethical question marks, it is an ingenious business idea and worth every penny to the industry. The financial services industry is also cashing in. For example, Bloomberg partnered with Sermo to allow its subscribers access to physician comments enabling them to understand and predict trends in the industry that would impact pharma company share prices!While pharma companies are still dabbling with social media, there is no doubt that it will play a key role in companies' service provision moving forward. The industry must no longer view social media tools as a fad or an inconvenience, but it must look to incorporate social media communication into its overall brand management strategy. Caution must of course be applied; no company wants to be slapped on the wrist for inappropriate use of social media tools (Pharma struggling with social media). However, the pharmaceutical companies that use them intelligently will be certain to reap the rewards.