“We really need to make a start on social media, but have no real direction.”
“We have a social media programme, but it’s not accomplishing anything. We’re wasting our resources.”
If you work for, or head, a pharma company, those words may sound very familiar. According to Digital Futures 2014, an online survey of people working in the industry, the biggest digital challenge in pharma this year is formulating a clear strategy.
This is true for pharma as a whole – and also for individual companies. It’s not altogether surprising. Many are still at the very beginning of their social media journey (if that), and strategy is the very first thing you need to work out.
For pharma in particular, the challenges of entering the social media arena can be serious, and therefore many companies are still feeling their way very cautiously. For others (and this happens in all industries), social media is a box-ticking exercise rather than a well-thought out plan.
For those pharma companies that are serious about reaping the benefits of social media, a strategy is a must. Just as you would never launch a business without a well-thought out plan, it would be an enormous mistake to get into social without a clear routemap to success. A strategy – preferably written down – keeps your company focused, helps you use your resources wisely, and most importantly gets you to your goals much quicker.
So how do you develop an effective strategy? Whether you are brand-new to social media, or want to fix a programme that is flailing, here are the eight steps you must take:
1. Work out what you want to get out of social media. A strategy is a plan of action, to achieve an overall aim. Before you even begin to think of your strategy, you have to know what you want to accomplish.
Are you going to try to develop real leads and drum up real business? Or perhaps use social media to help you recruit the best and brightest? Do you want to reach out to a certain segment of your clientele or stakeholders and develop a deeper conversation? Is the point, for you, to increase your brand’s visibility, or perhaps you need to do damage-control after bad publicity?
Each of these things will entail a very different approach. Once you understand what your goals are, you will be able to figure out how to get there – and just as importantly, how to tell whether your social media campaign is a success.
2. Figure out your resources. What you do on social media will very much depend on how much time and money you can devote to it. There is no point embarking on a very ambitious social media programme if you cannot realistically sustain it.
So before you make any grand plans, ascertain your budget. Ask yourself who is going to be responsible for social media in your organisation, how they are going to make time for it, who else is going to be involved and what tools they need to do the job well. (Perhaps they need training? To have some of their other responsibilities delegated? Or perhaps it would be better to outsource all or parts of your campaign?).
As well as helping you figure out the scale of your social media campaign, these questions will uncover steps you need to take to launch.
3. If you already use social media, audit what you do. Even if you run a social media programme that isn’t accomplishing much, you will learn many lessons that will help you formulate a successful strategy for the future.
Examine both your stats and your internal processes. Instead of starting from scratch, see what can be quickly fixed.
Look for posts that have generated engagement or positive feedback. Is there a common theme? Are some of your platforms better developed than others? I bet that some elements of your social media are actually worth keeping, or even focusing on exclusively.
Can you learn any lessons from the way social media has been run in the past? Perhaps, when you examine your stats, you will discover that one member of staff is writing all your most successful posts, or can you uncover a particular glitch in the line of responsibility that has been sabotaging your efforts?
4. Audit your competitors. This is crucial to figure out what gaps exist in the social media market. Perhaps they are all targeting one particular type of client – leaving another area yours for the taking? Maybe many of them are on Twitter and LinkedIn, but have yet to take advantage of Google+, where you could dominate?
Look, also, to see which ideas of theirs seem to be working and then go improve on them! Again – there’s no need to start from scratch.
5. Know your audience. This is absolutely key. You can’t appeal to everyone on social media. You need to decide on a particular target group – say, leaders of companies with a particular problem that your product can address, or consumers with an interest in a particular aspect of biotechnology – then shape your social media strategy around them.
What platforms do they hang out on? What are they interested in? What problems do they have?
You need this knowledge to figure out where you can reach them online, which issues you should be focusing on and what kind of material will appeal to them.
6. Examine the rest of your marketing. Your social media should work in tandem with existing marketing strategies, not separate from them or even in competition. How can they complement each other?
Can you use traditional advertising to drive people to your blog, perhaps through a competition? Does it make more sense to focus on different groups in your LinkedIn lead-generation campaign and your telemarketing – or the same ones?
7. Identify risk. This goes without saying – it’s almost unnecessary to include. You must ensure that your strategy can be executed in compliance with ABPI guidelines.
8. Pick your platforms. This is really your last step in formulating your strategy – not, as so many companies think, your first. The platforms are the means to the end – not the end. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc are extremely different platforms with different audiences, different formats, different strengths and weaknesses.
You can only decide which ones are going to be best for your company once you know what you want to accomplish, what the gaps are in the market, who you’re targeting and what your own resources are.
If you are really starting from scratch, our last piece of advice is to start with modest goals and a simple strategy. Do not sneer at getting 500 Twitter followers – the first ones are always the hardest. Do not feel pressure to be on every platform or accomplish too much, particularly at the beginning. The worst kind of social media strategy aims too high – and then crashes. Far better to start slowly and become more ambitious in time.
Coming up on Monday: What elements should a great pharma social media strategy include?
Danny Bermant is director of Brainstorm Digital
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