The Role of Social Media in Healthcare: Three Takeaways for Today’s Pharma Marketer


In 2021, social media is a labyrinth of channels, styles, and content curators that is enough to make any marketer’s head spin. Couple that with the regulatory and legal requirements that pharma marketers face and it can feel like a real landmine.

The pharma industry has come a long way on social media, from the inception of corporate comms channels and product ads with stock photography to featuring real patient stories and testing patient influencer marketing. But as social media has evolved, so have patients’ habits and the way they use social media for healthcare consumption.

WEGO Health & the Digital Health Coalition recently surveyed 250+ patient leader network members across 125+ conditions to provide pharma marketers with a guide on the role of social media in today’s patients’ lives. Which channels are driving health action, which are most trusted, and what type of content do patients most want to see from pharma on social media?

Below are the top three takeaways from both our survey and recent webinar event discussing the data:

1. Social media platforms are vital resources for patients seeking information and support with health-related decisions.

When asked how they use each social media platform broadly, most respondents state they use at least one platform for health-related information and decision-making support. Facebook is by far the most utilized with 97% of respondents leveraging the platform.

For news information, respondents choose Facebook and Twitter as their go-to platforms, while they look to YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram for entertainment.

When it comes to connecting with others, Facebook takes the cake by a landslide. Respondents even share that they rely most on Facebook for exploring new products or services over other channels where exploring is more commonplace in other industries.

While these nuggets provide interesting context of where on social media patients are, it’s even more interesting to provide marketers with the context of patients’ mindsets while on each of the various social media channels. There is a certain patient culture on social media that is important to pay attention to when choosing channels and creating content.

So what about content specific to health information? We know when a patient is in the mindset of seeking health information, their social media journey and utilization might look different than typical everyday use.

As it relates to health-related information and decision-making, Facebook is still king, dominating every category with solid margins in this survey. Healthcare is highly personal, and the connections and private sharing component that Facebook offers is unmatched by other platforms.

2. Patients look to social media for stories, expert insights, and answers.

Sometimes social media can leave us with a bit of information overload. Between following sometimes thousands of people and algorithms only showing a fraction of the content published, findings information relevant to a health condition can be difficult. Over 80% of respondents say that to navigate and find helpful health information available on social, they specifically watch what patient online community leaders share and discuss. 79% look to social media to answer specific questions about their own personal experiences — many of these conversations had in private groups or by reaching out to other patients directly.

So if patients are mostly turning to patient leaders and influencers for their helpful health information, what content would they like to see in the form of pharma marketing? 74% say hearing about patient leaders’ experiences is of high interest and 73% say educational content about access and patient support programs are interesting.

This intel provides marketers with the opportunity to meet patients where they are on social with the content they want from brands. This allows brands to not only serve content to generate awareness but to also continue an informed content strategy throughout the patient journey.

A few ways that pharma can really pull their brand message through is by providing answers to common disease and medication questions, sharing access & support information, and offering valuable testimonials for patients seeking new diagnoses and/or therapies.

Seeing a brand ad is one piece of the puzzle, but it might not be quite enough for a patient. Most patients also want to vet information with their own personal connections, patient-group friends, and the Patient Leaders that they follow.

That is why it’s critical for pharma brands to enlist the support of Patient Leaders and influencers to help them fully understand where they can offer support throughout the patient while also delivering their key messages.

3. Trust on social is key.

Approximately 90% of respondents state that knowing that information relayed in a post is verified as accurate is somewhat or very important. YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the most trusted platforms, and patients’ most trust content coming from individual medical professionals, healthcare systems, online health providers, and patient online community leaders.

When it comes to trust, one thing is certain — patients are doing their homework and they aren’t blindly following friends and family or even celebrities. Rather, they look to the experts for information. Consider the previous data in that patients are validating with their communities and circles and be sure to close that loop with compelling content that is either co-created or can be shared by those sources.

So where does this leave pharma marketers? What can we learn from this data? Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that social media has many roles in the patient journey, from awareness to education and inspiring action.

Marketers should first do their homework by listening to the expert patient leaders within their condition communities to understand the patient culture on social.

They should create content that authentically speaks to a patients’ real journey or story, and last but certainly not least, ensure that they are representing a diverse patient population in their social media messaging.

WEGO Health specializes in patient influencer partnerships from conducting market research to creating authentic patient influencer marketing campaigns on social media. We’d welcome the opportunity to connect with you to discuss how we could infuse the patient perspective into your social media marketing campaigns.

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