How To Make Healthcare Social

By Nick Guarracino

The Final Frontier

It was inevitable.

Since the birth of social media, healthcare CMOs have known that they would eventually have to leave the comfort and safety of their rigid, regulated channels and enter the "Wild West" of public networks.

Social networks are the primary way we communicate today. Consumer brands learned long ago the value of building social communities and providing custom, shareable content with fans. Some brands got there early, others later in the game, but all now realize the power of conversation and direct communication with consumers.

A few years ago, healthcare and big pharmaceutical brands wouldn’t dare dream of joining the social conversation. Mired in regulatory mandates, fearful of litigation—not to mention the omnipresence of the FDA—healthcare brands playing in social media was a no-go. But all that is changing, much to the benefit of the brands, as well as consumers.

Times They Are A-Changin’

Facebook is ten years old. It has grown from its humble beginnings to become a culture-shifting powerhouse. It has continued to evolve, along with its users, and has proven itself a legitimate media channel to initially compete with—and eventually overtake—traditional channels like broadcast and print. Brands saw its potential, and now it's impossible to imagine a brand without a Facebook presence and social media strategy. That’s a lot of change to absorb in under ten years, especially for traditional marketers in healthcare.

Being swept along by this crushing wave of change, the FDA recently posted guidelines for pharma brands in their use of social media. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it is enough for even the most conservative healthcare CMOs to consider dipping their toes into social.

Guiding the Conversation

For all the bad press and image issues that Big Pharma faces, there are countless men and women at these companies who genuinely care about their consumers and take pride in making products that can save lives. Social provides an opportunity to reveal the stories behind the folks who are doing the heavy lifting.

On the flipside, we know that whether healthcare companies like it or not, there are already thousands of conversations about them happening on social networks. Many healthcare professionals have aggressively adopted social platforms and are talking about their brand right now. This is all the more reason to jump in and help preserve the integrity of these brands by shepherding those conversations back to approved dialog and building a culture of approachability.

The best marketers have learned that by being responsive to--and engaging with--fans, they are more likely to create loyal defenders of the brand, who will in turn be more likely to influence their networks.

Lifestyle Support > Customer Support

Consumers follow brands in social because they are fans of the products and love using them. Pharma is a different animal in that most consumers are not using the products by choice, but out of prescribed need. It's important to understand the difference and how it affects social strategy.

Many healthcare brands make the mistake of treating social platforms as an extension of their customer support policy. While there will always be a need for a customer support protocol online, another approach is to create a “lifestyle support” policy. Consumers don't want constant reminders of their health condition. Creating an environment that supports lifestyle instead of disease progress can be very effective in building a strong relationship with consumers, while veering away from brand-specific topics that can get marketers in hot water with the FDA.

Timely Content and Regulatory Review

How does a healthcare brand keep its messaging relevant in the “here today, gone today” world of social networking? Preparation.

Establish a rhythm with regulatory to approve content well in advance. Create approved, evergreen content that can be available to populate your social feed while simultaneously awaiting approval on timely content. A combination of cleverly planned content and strong community management can keep your brand fresh and relevant in the ever-changing world of social communication.

Create Social Media Guidelines and Training

Just like any other channel of healthcare communication, social requires guidelines for answering customer queries, establishing a tone of voice, and building protocols for customer support. It also protects your brand from potential internal security and privacy issues. Once rules are established, training should be provided to Community Managers to ensure that they understand how to react and respond appropriately to consumers.

SEE ALSO: 4 Reasons Your Healthcare Brand Needs a Social Media Policy

Find The Right Team

Of course, none of this works without finding the right people to execute your plan.

At Likeable, we’ve recently established Likeable Health, a division of healthcare experts who understand how to successfully manage and grow regulated communities. Identifying professionals who can empathize with your consumers and navigate your brand’s regulatory process is key to making the transition to social networks a smooth and successful process.

Start Small, Think BIG

Once you’ve decided to start communicating with consumers, you don't have to do everything at once. Start with small content plays and consumer interactions, with an eye on your brand’s future goals. As you build a rhythm with your fans and your approval process, you can test out more valuable media opportunities that can benefit both parties. Get the small stuff right and build on your success.

With the right guidelines, preparation, and support team, healthcare brands can build and manage more effective--and more likeable--social communities.

What healthcare brands are executing social well?  Share with us in the comments!