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Past Meetings

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Can you do that?
Overcoming hurdles in a digital world

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – do these have a place in the pharma world? This month’s meeting addressed how they do and how they can be utilized to our best advantage. Daniel Arsenault was the meeting’s moderator and he began the evening by showing some consumer study data which demonstrated how social media has changed consumer’s buying habits. Consumers now have open relationships with brands and they’re constantly reconsidering and reassessing them.

  • For example, every time a new cell phone is launched onto the market, we consider whether we should change our phone model, company, plan, platform, etc. Our opinion is influenced by information on the internet and by what we see on social media. We are constantly reconsidering what we have and reassessing if it’s the best option for us at that time.

Digital marketing initiatives have a greater impact, now more than ever, but the pharma industry’s regulated environment affects how we market on social media. This evening’s speakers were here to tell us how we can better navigate this digital world.

The first speaker was Michelle Sullivan, the first public relations specialist in Quebec to develop social media campaigns for her clients. She began by saying that social media is maturing as it evolves and that digital thought leaders are now beyond Facebook and Twitter; they have moved on to more advanced social media technology. She pointed out that YouTube will reach more people aged 18-34 than cable networks. Michelle also said that people prefer to communicate via dialogue rather than via broadcast media and that the draw of social media is that it has more in common with neighbours chatting over the fence.

Michelle noted that we are in a world of information overload and said, “Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” She provided the following five suggestions on how to “break through the noise”:

  1. Be good at telling a story and communicating key content. Engage your audience with a story that will be meaningful to them.

  2. Think about the “why” and what motivates the human experience. Powerful projects will evoke strong feelings from an audience.

  3. Consider the power of influence. Influential people can drive your message further.

  4. Powerful campaigns think niche. “Don’t try to speak to the whole world, but speak to your patient audience.”

  5. Stand out from the crowd and try to be creative and think outside the box. Look for ways to communicate your message that are new and innovative.

Key take-aways:

  • One-directional advertising (such as TV) is a thing of the past and social media is the way that society likes to communicate

  • Try a niche strategy to start with – start small and be effective in what you’re doing

  • Look into new social media platforms

The second speaker of the evening was Deirdre Cozier from Pendopharm regulatory and her talk revolved about how to remain compliant within the pharma regulations with digital campaigns. She said that innovative pharma social media campaigns can be done; they just require some advanced planning. She explained that it is critical that marketers understand the major restrictions with respect to following three marketing categories; namely, the type of product (prescription, non-prescription, etc.), the audience to which it is disseminated (healthcare professionals, patients, consumers) and the content of the message (health product advertising, education, scientific communication, corporate communication).

Deirdre discussed user-generated content (UGC) and she said that it was the crux for the pharma industry with respect to social media. She had the following suggestions for handling UGC:

  • Companies should have a process in place before marketing on social media.

  • Deirdre’s proposed process was to triage comments against pre-established criteria and to have a trained Community Manager who can monitor social media marketing and identify any suspicious activity.

  • If suspicious activity is identified, it should be reviewed by an internal Rapid Response Team (RRT), which should be small and consist of regulatory, legal and medical representatives.

  • Based on the UGC, the company should have pre-established responses prepared to send to the user, which should be done within a pre-specified timeframe.

  • Once the activity has gone through the RRT for assessment and response, the UGC should be removed from the media, or if it’s not able to be removed, a message should be added that counteracts the comment. This shows evidence that efforts have been made to remediate the situation.

Deirdre finished by providing the critical factors for success:

  • Plan ahead. Establish a process before engaging in social media initiatives that includes standard responses, an RRT process and an exit strategy which allows the initiative to be removed with minimal disruption to the user community.

  • Speak with your legal and regulatory departments before submitting an initiative for internal review.

  • Know your company’s tolerance for risk.

  • Have trained Community Managers, because without them any initiative will fail. They need to have advanced adverse event and compliance training and they need to know major regulatory restrictions and when to escalate something to the RRT.

  • Don’t try to fit educational programs into advertising

  • Brand your campaign around a disease state rather a product

The evening finished with a lively panel discussion and the speakers gave insightful answers to many questions from the audience and the moderator, which are outlined below.

Q: What are your thoughts about being hosts of social media sites and being a participant in them? From a PR perspective, is it more credible to be a commenter and what are the implications?

  • It depends on the platform. A “brand” coming on Facebook and commenting might not be well received. Twitter is a more open platform.

  • Social media works better with a real face behind the comment, rather than a persona.

  • Company legal teams will likely say that you have to declare your affiliation to the company on your comments. A lot of companies restrict official communications to trained employees, as a crisis can happen on social media and go global within hours.

  • It is good social media practice to be completely transparent about your persona.

Q: How does Health Canada monitor regulatory compliance in social media?

  • It’s regulated by the marketing directorate and they work from complaints. They don’t actively go out and scan what’s happening and it’s not part of regular inspections.

Q: There are numerous networks available, how do we know which is the best one for us?

  • You want to go where your target audience is. Know your demographic and how they use social media and know your networks.

  • You don’t need a Facebook page. Facebook is a publically traded company and has to answer to shareholders, so the type of information you receive on Facebook is tailored to you and getting you to buy advertising.

  • If you’re just doing social media to “check a box” on your marketing plan, you have to wonder what your return on investment will be.

Q: What happens when you pick up on adverse event reporting on social media?

  • There are certain reporting criteria for each company and, once the criteria are met, the drug safety team will trigger whether it needs to go to a health authority.

Q: Do you have any experience with exit strategies on social media?

  • If your social media page doesn’t have a huge number of followers, shutting it down probably won’t cause a huge disruption. If you have a social media site that engages with a community often and you have to shut it down, it will impact your credibility. If this happens, look into handing it over to a user in the community who can take it over and maintain it.


Q: Why is Canada behind in getting on the social media bandwagon in pharma?

  • Consumer drug advertising limitations are stricter in Canada and there are fears around adverse event reporting requirements, but with the right planning, social media can be a successful strategy

Be sure to join us for next month’s meeting which is all about Moving Your Career Forward!

Presentation (PDF 4.81 MB)

Lara Holmes
Medical Writer
Phone: 514-425-4977


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Green Shoots of Opportunity:
How to Find and Harvest Green Shoots in Pharma

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Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
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Fax: (514) 486-4794

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