Over the past few years, businesses of all sizes and sectors have started to monitor conversations that are relevant to their organization on social media – but it appears pharma has been slow to adopt this best practice.
By monitoring mentions on social media, better known as “social listening,” organizations can hear what customers are saying about their brand, and respond in a timely fashion. The average social media user expects a response from a brand within four hours, but firms typically keep them waiting 10 hours, according to research from Sprout Social.
The interesting part of that 10-hour figure? It’s if brands reply at all. Sprout Social reports 89% of social media messages to brands go ignored.
In pharma, social media adoption has been slow, period. While pharma firms are gradually becoming more active on digital platforms, the notion of listening in to what customers are saying on platforms like Twitter and Facebook is still fairly novel.
In a recent webinar chaired by pharmaphorum, titled ‘The evolution of pharma social media intelligence,’ just 15% of viewers said they used social media for listening, compared to 41% for broadcasting.
The benefits of social listening are apparent: it can provide organizations with a deeper insight into their customers; help identify pain points and gaps in the market; highlight brand perception; and garner product feedback.
So, why is it that pharma has been reluctant to mine social media for insights, when the advantages are there for all to see?
The PV conundrum: Reporting adverse events based on social listening?
One concern is that pharma firms will be responsible for reporting any adverse events that they come across on social media, which could inundate pharmacovigilance teams. According to Anurag Abinashi, a social media intelligence lead and participant in the aforementioned webinar, the volume of adverse events on social media is “extremely low.”
He added that there are now tools available to pharma firms that can automate the process of monitoring, so that social listening doesn’t become a resource-intensive task.
Related Reading: Why Text Mining for PV?
New research published in the journal npj Digital Medicine also makes the case for social listening in pharma, showing how it can yield valuable drug safety information – and suggests adverse event mentions on social media might be more common than Abinashi’s claim.
The study by the University of Manchester looked specifically at Twitter. They drew their conclusions after searching Twitter for the number of Tweets mentioning an adverse drug reaction involving glucocorticoid drugs – comparing this number with the official drug-related adverse events reported to the UK’s Yellow Card system run by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“Using glucocorticoids as an example, we have demonstrated that Twitter can be a potentially useful, supplementary source for post-marketing pharmacovigilance,” the researchers said in their report.
Between 2012 and 2015 there were 20,210 glucocorticoid-related adverse event Tweets compared with 3,022 adverse events logged through the Yellow Card system during the same period. However, it reported that the majority of the side effects reported via Twitter were “common but not serious.”
Social media is only one piece of the PV puzzle
Social listening can be a valuable tool for pharma companies and provide a rich data stream for pharmacovigilance, if properly managed. But to get a true view of the impact a brand and its products are having on customers, it is crucial that pharma companies bring other data sources into the mix.
Social listening, then, should not be considered the be-all-end-all, but a vital part of the jigsaw when trying to piece together a complete picture of patients’ experiences and perspectives. What do you think? Should pharma be adopting social listening?
Keep Learning: Automation in Pharmacovigilance: 3 Use Cases of Leveraging Machine Analysis Tools for Adverse Event Detection