Online patient communities are thriving and have become instrumental in guiding people’s health decisions. But, with a few exceptions, pharma is on the outside looking in, holding themselves at bay because of concerns with being associated with uncontrolled user-generated content (UGC). Some pharma brands have forged a way into patient communities by disabling user comments, but they end up losing the most social aspect of social communities.
There are better ways for pharma to get involved.
1. Safe and Controlled Social Communities
Moderated social communities are safer for pharma brands than unmoderated communities because they function at a higher level of control. Moderators ensure that misinformation is being addressed, group dynamics are being policed, and high-risk patient situations are being handled.
Not all online communities are moderated, and not all moderators are high quality. In our experience building and operating MS, IBD, and breast cancer communities, the highest quality moderators have firsthand experience with the condition, are members of the community themselves, have a level of training, and are accountable and disciplined to meet rigorously defined standards.
2. Safe and Controlled Brand Placement
Pharma marketers would feel comfortable about advertising on social communities if their brand could be woven into the community experience without being adjacent to UGC. Such opportunities do exist with social communities that also provide medically reviewed health content and expertise. These communities can carefully place brand advertising solely in safe and controlled content areas, and can drive targeted users in from the more social-centric areas like group discussions.
3. Brand Participation
Brands can achieve the ultimate level of control over UGC by actually participating in the conversation in a controlled environment. Interested brands should partner with patient communities that allow a designated, qualified person from the brand team (like a social or community manager) to be a trusted participant of the community. This brand representative should be transparent about who they are and why they’re there: to educate and answer questions about the medication they represent.
When users post their brand questions, the brand designee is able to knowledgeably address them, preferably privately in a 1:1 format. This approach finally puts the brand on a level playing field with users, social influencers, and medical experts.
Based on the growth we’re seeing with Healthline’s chronic condition communities, we’ve learned that users are hungry for authentic human interaction. They’re curious about brands and eager for honest dialogue.
We see that pharma brands would like to experiment with new patient engagement models, and they benefit from unique insights and interactions derived from emerging, mobile-first communities. The value is manifold and includes proactively braving the world of UGC. Interested brands can now move beyond the banner and get involved in patient communities, as safe and controlled opportunities do exist.