social media monitoring benefits for healthcare companiesAlthough many pharmaceutical and biotech companies have a social media presence, most do not take full advantage of the wealth of information obtainable through social media listening, experts say.

Many healthcare companies hesitate to adopt social media listening due to worries about regulatory compliance. They fear social listening will expose them to posts where authors share an “undesirable experience” from their product, requiring them to manage potentially costly adverse-event reporting.

Those adverse events are much less common than thought, according to research from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. FDA rules require that reportable social media posts must contain a specific and identifiable patient, contact information, medication, and an adverse effect. Less than 2 percent of all posts mentioning pharmaceutical products and brands meet those criteria.

Over half (52 percent) of consumers actively search online for health- or care-related information, reveals Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers. That content reveals the needs, wants, motivations, behaviors, and decision considerations of patients, caregivers and healthcare providers. “This data can provide a valuable source of insights for pharmaceutical companies seeking to understand how best to reach, engage, and support patients and healthcare providers across the patient journey,” Deloitte researchers say.

Many Benefits from Social Media Listening

As online discussions proliferate among patients, physicians, caregivers and other key groups, savvy healthcare companies are recognizing the potential value and implementing social media listening programs, according to a study by Best Practices LLC, a benchmarking and consulting firm.

Many pharma companies avoid adopting social media listening because of worries about adverse events reporting. However, robust social media monitoring programs offer a slew of benefits, states its study, Pharma Social Media Listening: Benchmarking Innovative Practices in the Healthcare Industry. Social media listening provides rapid insights into patient adherence, brand awareness and sentiment, levels of product misinformation, and thought leader sentiment.

Companies participating in the study said companies must thoroughly train – but ultimately trust – their vendors on reporting protocol adherence in order to gain the full benefits of social media listening.

That’s a compelling reason that pharma, biotech and healthcare companies should use a social media monitoring and analysis service like (formerly CyberAlert), a leading media analytics company for healthcare companies that uses human analysts to individually assess each news clip and social media posting. Automated analysis is unlikely to properly assess the required criteria for adverse event reporting.

Diligent Personnel Help Firms Meet Regulations

More pharmaceutical companies now realize they can comply with regulations with the help of diligent personnel, agrees Tamara Littleton, CEO at social media management agency Emoderation.

“Pharma brands have realized that they can use social media without breaching guidelines, and that they need to be there because that’s where people are,” Littleton writes for Econsultancy. “It’s where discussions about the brand happen every day and they need to be listening to them even if they are unable to respond directly with specifics due to regulations.”

Pharma companies find that social media listening can spot emerging crisis on social media. For instance, instead of contacting the company or doctor, customers might tweet a question such as “Has anyone else had this reaction to this medication?”

The most successful pharma brands stress sharing content that help customers and company values, less than obviously promoting their products. For example, Johnson & Johnson and Vitabiotics, a vitamin supplement maker, raise awareness of health issues and promotes its brand through social media by posting health news and tips.

Bottom Line: Many pharmaceutical companies hesitate to embrace social media listening due to concerns about reporting adverse events. However, those events are relatively rare and their fears are overblown, researchers say. Pharmaceutical firms can reap the substantial benefits of social media monitoring by overcoming their fears.