HCPs on Social Media: How Marketers Can Capitalize

Nowadays, when we think of social, our minds immediately turn to consumers: TikTok influencers doing quirky dances to raise awareness. The uptick in brands (and users) trying to figure out how to leverage BeReal. Is Clubhouse still a thing? Almost daily UX updates from Instagram and Snapchat filters driving event activation.

However, no industry has shifted to tap into social in recent years more so than pharma and healthcare. Global communities of patients are being developed, hashtags are connecting parents of children with rare diseases, and user-generated stories are driving authentic examples of treatment success. Among this hyper-speed social growth for patients and caregivers, a true golden nugget opportunity for pharma marketers is to uncover and activate the power of social media for healthcare professionals (HCPs).

The Disruption of the Traditional Approach

A drastic rise of HCPs turning to social platforms for professional purposes is shifting the way brands need to communicate and interact with their target audiences. In 2022, a staggering 87% of millennial HCPs turned to social professionally (1) as the industry continues to see a shift in how specialists and HCPs gather information on treatment options, communicate with peers, and drive thought leadership.

A May 2022 study stated that two-thirds of HCPs are now professionally spending an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes on social media platforms a day (1). The social space is becoming a go-to and trusted resource for HCPs and should be seen as a vital pillar of current HCP communication strategies to truly connect with their HCP audiences.

Historically, pharma marketers have stood at a distance from social media, intimidated by its potentially damaging public power, skeptical of its ROI, and unsure of its HCP communication benefit. While some have made the leap into the golden age of social pharma marketing, the majority are still waiting on the sidelines, watching from a distance for other brands to break barriers just to use them as an example and proof of concept.

HCP social is restructuring pharma marketing digital personas

As this social-first professional approach has become more and more common among HCPs, the archaic structure of a one-size-fits all digital persona from pharma marketers needs to be reassessed to understand the complexities of specific channels, including social. With the emphasis and uniqueness of social, brands can no longer loop social personas and social opportunity as a subcategory of a digital personas and assume it will drive creative success. While the digital persona archetype will forever be the north star for strategic direction across the numerous digital tactics, nuances to how HCPs engage with social content are unlike how they are interacting with any other platforms in the digital world up to this point. How often are they craving peer-to-peer communication? Are they actively participating with content or just absorbing big data? Does influencer opinion matter much? Are there established KOLs?

Pharma marketers need to break the system for how we approach developing these archetypes – moving away from a one-size- fits all digital persona that captures high-level opportunities across channels, to a detailed social-specific persona that encompasses the personality traits, engagement levels, and communication approaches that will result in driving deep engagement and quality connection on the social channels HCPs frequent most.

The ever-growing role of social in the HCP journey

In addition to the reassessment of digital to social persona structure, there needs to be a shift in the understanding of how HCPs are leveraging social altogether. Traditionally, pharma marketing journeys focus on social content streams within continuing education: Once an HCP is aware of a product, social’s role is to provide data highlights, informational breakdowns, and research updates via targeted placements. While this is still a valued approach, the opportunity for brand integration across their journey is growing.

Social is filling the role for HCPs that was once filled by numerous digital tactics such as newsletters with newest data, website videos of case study testimonials, or revised sales aid breakdowns of a therapy MOA. These are all being seamlessly placed into the feed of HCPs from the very beginning of the brand-HCP relationship. HCPs are now turning to social often and even earlier along their user journey more than other digital properties often brought to the feed with eagerness for the newest content and interest in the current conversations being shared by peers and scientific leaders.

Social as the pulse, fueling the digital ecosystem

What once was a secondary or tertiary support tactic for a brand’s HCP digital ecosystem, social is now becoming the pulse of a digital strategy. Traditional email rollouts and occasionally planned website updates will be soon joined by heightened social media plans, social-first KOL activations, and gamification of brand data for HCPs to seamlessly engage with. Having social rooted within an ecosystem working as an ever-present heartbeat for a brand will result in a constantly fueled, trusted, and top-of-mind brand experience that pumps the traditional digital tactics with quality engagement and database acquisitions.

The dawn of the HCP social golden days

Long gone are the days that we see HCPs prioritizing flipping through pages of printed medical journals or flying across the country to connect with peers in-person at conferences. It is now short-snippet personalized case studies that drive conversation, three-minute live streams of key opinion leaders, data infographic breakdowns, and beautifully animated MOAs—at the touch of a fingertip. On a commute or between patients. Quick, relevant, interesting.

In an age of tech-savvy HCPs and a desire for authentic personalized connections with brands, few industries are as eager to be dynamic in social as the pharma industry. It is now time that pharma marketers need to embrace the power of HCP social in the digital ecosystem and drive this valued change for the brands we work with. At our fingertips is a vital tool that has truly yet to be tapped that will drive a strengthened brand HCP experience that until only a few years ago didn’t exist.

At Grey, famously effective work is the rule, not the exception.