So why are these same companies so shy about engaging with their customers?
While other industries have latched onto the opportunities offered by social media, pharma companies have been hesitant to do so, research shows. And it's not because they have any doubts about its potential value.
A recent study by Cutting Edge Information found that 82 percent of the big pharma companies surveyed recognize the advantages of using social media. But many of those same companies conceded they're keeping a cautious distance due to concerns about regulatory issues and return on investment (ROI).
Does it pay to engage in conversations with your customers? Cutting Edge researchers contend that demonstrating ROI has long been a shortcoming of digital marketing in general, and social media in particular -- across the board, not just for pharma.
In fact, when asked about the importance of "demonstrating ROI," survey respondents rated it 7.2 on a scale of 1 to 10.
As everyone with an interest in analytics knows, it's not easy to measure ROI in social media -- at least compared to traditional channels like print and television. Social media -- and the data it generates -- is a different animal altogether, isn't it?
Some people understand that: They acknowledge that social media is more about listening and engaging with customers. While that's hard to translate to dollars and cents, it does create other long-term benefits, like a better understanding of consumer behavior.
Because of this, some pharma companies are jumping in, creating patient and healthcare professional communities, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, and Twitter feeds. According to a September report from IDC Health Insights, "Worldwide Pharmaceutical Social Media Analytics 2012 Vendor Assessment," pharma marketing departments are "starving for new ways to measure market sentiment, competitive analysis and promotional effectiveness" in areas that were previously difficult to gauge.
The report notes:
While spend on outbound social media marketing is lagging in 2012, investment in social media analytics software and services is growing and expected to increase significantly for the next several years.
More health-related conversations to come? What do you think? Are you comfortable discussing your treatment options for something like wrinkles on Facebook? What about a life-threatening disease? Do you want to engage in casual conversation with other people who may or may not know what they're talking about? And what can the pharmaceutical companies learn from the conversations?