It is said that experience is the best teacher. Here, I want to share the 10 best lessons I learned in the past 1.5 years, while establishing Social Media Monitoring and Analysis practice serving the global pharmaceutial and healthcare industry.
- Machines rarely deal well with human emotions. Natural language processing software or textual analysis software may be good at recognizing patterns of how certain keywords appear in certain sequence and how that can be interpreted, but when it comes to understanding opinions of patients or reasons for switching drugs or therapies, they rarely do a good job. That is why you need human analysts or medical experts in the team who exactly understand the content and tell the truth.
- The problem isn’t always “big data”. Most approaches to social media analytics start with the assumption that data volume is very high and users are increasingly conversing, thus compounding the problem. This may be true of certain consumer goods, but when it comes to healthcare and prescription drugs, big data is not always the issue. In fact, for prescription drugs, data volume doesn’t become “big data” during pre-launch, launch and post launch phases; it takes years before the drug is adopted by a mass of people and data becomes big. By then, there is not much left to change.
- Statistical sampling doesn’t work in qualitative analytics. It is always safer to look at the entire quantum of data for drawing conclusions; a sample section of the data rarely gives an accurate big picture. This is possible to be done during the decision making phase, since the data is not yet big. If you want to be confident about the accuracy and quality of analysis, there is substitute to manual analysis of large part of the data. Afterall, we are talking healthcare here; the analysis may have serious consequences.
- Standard syndicated reports are limited in their value. Syndicated brand reputation report covering entire competitive landscape are good to have, but they rarely offer insights. They don’t solve problems or provide competitive advantage. Deeper dives are needed to reveal brand specific insights and most clients are often willing to pay for custom investigations.
- Influence of patient generated content extend beyond geographic limits. Clients seem to believe that social influence is local. So most affiliate (country level) offices aren’t interested in what is being said internationally, although the brand is global. The reality is, patients read everything that appears in searches and don’t necessarily spend time in selecting comments only from their geography. In order to understand what influences patients in a certain geography or country, it is better to focus on the content being consumed there, instead of focusing on the content being produced there.
- Social media analytics is not an event; it is a process. Short term analysis of patient comments done within a time window, may reveal insights. But that may be only a section of truth. In order to understand long term trends, changing opinions, shifts in brand perception and conversation triggers that caused them, continuous monitoring is needed.
- Adverse events reporting using social media is rare. Patients rarely use social media for actively reporting adverse events. Even if we assume that they inadvertently do so, most of the times, social media content doesn’t qualify as reportable adverse event.
- Even if there are some AEs, reporting can be easily managed. Some may not buy point 5 and may believe that there may be some patients who report AEs using social media. There is so much to be gained from listening to consumers that there’s no point in sacrificing it all for concerns around AE reporting. Social media AEs are easy to manage. Define a process. Create protocols. Delegate responsibilities and put a team together. Treat social media as another channel for reporting AEs, just like other channels such as a reporting form on the website, or a call center number or through physicians.
- It is critical to think from the consumer’s perspective. Social media is not about large corporations and drug manufacturers; it is about people and their lives. Patients talk more about their own condition and their experience with your brand. Social media is deeply integrated into the patient’s treatment journey. Patients use social media as soon as symptoms start appearing and continue right through, until they are cured or come to manage a lifelong condition . This way of thinking should lead to social media initiatives targeted at patients at each stage of the treatment journey.
- Integrated marketing is the right approach. To build a sustainable competitive advantage using social media, we have to think holistically. Social media is a part of the digital marketing strategy, which in turn is a part of the larger brand marketing strategy. You don’t have to do all the marketing in-house. Partner with an agency which can work with you across the digital/social media marketing continuum i.e. social media monitoring and analysis, integrating insights into the marketing mix, social media marketing and engagement and dollar impact measurement.
(Views are personal.)