Everybody seems to be buzzing about social media nowadays. If you’re not tweeting away, you’re “liking” a status message on Facebook. Or you’re posting photos on Pinterest while you connect with long-lost colleagues on LinkedIn. As a society, we are more connected than ever professionally and personally.

Physicians and pharmaceutical brands are no different, as they are leveraging social networks to connect, learn, collaborate, and improve the care they provide to their patients. The professional application of social media can be quite a powerful—and beneficial—one.

We have already seen secondary research companies tracking the results of social media’s impact. In the physician space, approximately 25% of all doctors in America are using social media. Selected pockets of penetration exist in certain areas with about 50% of physicians adopting social media use. Some use it to share ideas or stay on top of news; others view it as a marketing tool. One cannot deny its power in an ever-changing, technologically advanced world.

Physicians embrace social networking

In the medical world, the whole idea of social media goes beyond using a tool to bring people together. Physicians are taking social networking a step further by making it a part of their professional environment. It helps them interact with other doctors and health care professionals in real time to make intelligent decisions on patient care.

Social media is no longer a bonus, however. In fact, using it is already a precedence for doctors to engage via communities with colleagues.

Even if doctors are not using social media to connect, they are capitalizing on it as a way to keep up with advancements in the field.

A recent Journal of Medical Internet Research study found that 85 percent of oncologists and primary care physicians used social media at least once a week or once a day to scan for health information, and 60 percent believe that social media improves their level of patient care.

Pharmaceutical companies connect with consumers via social media

In addition to physician use, pharmaceutical companies not only use social networking internally. They also utilize direct customer interaction to collect information, engage consumers and meet other business objectives. In this field, social networks provide a platform for marketing and customer feedback, and can be used internally to exchange ideas and collaborate, or, like doctors do, to stay on top of critical developments in the industry.

However, social networking’s use in the pharmaceutical industry goes beyond racking up “likes,” on a Facebook page, for example. Companies can gather real-time data from customers, and engage them to learn more about their products using social media.

“What matters is providing a trusted means for conveying information – back and forth – between a brand or company and a community of interested persons, whether patients , health care professionals or others,” it states in a white paper produced by The Agency Inside Harte Hanks. The white paper also says that brands are using social networks and communities in order to provide value to participants, which can also enhance branding efforts and lead to sales.

Yet some pharmaceutical manufacturers also experience challenges when trying to leverage the power of social media.

According to the aforementioned white paper, the lack of FDA leadership and inability to publish comprehensive information in a timely way has created hurdles for companies that want to incorporate social media marketing into their promotional toolbox. In short, they fear a regulatory backlash because they aren’t sure what they can and cannot do on social media because the field is one where communications are tightly governed.

Social media winners

Let’s take a look at a few companies in the life sciences arena that have successfully used social media.

  • The Johnson &Johnson Diabetes Institute is an online community where health care professionals that have attended the intimate sessions can reconnect and share experiences about how to use J&J glucose monitors and insulin pumps. News about the social media platform spread and it cultivated a loyal following. As a result, the wait list has grown for health care professionals that want to take part in training programs.
  • Abbott Labs launched its Labs are Vital education awareness initiative, and promotes the initiative via its Facebook page. The following is big, with about 7,000 supports in the U.S., allowing Abbott to capture the attention of this specialized niche.
  • Sanofi Aventis uses its website, Discuss Diabetes, along with Facebook and Twitter entities to provide a platform where users can connect with each other and corporate representatives about diabetes, treatments and condition management.

Most pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to capitalize on social media usage, but if they want to compete in the future, they must embrace this medium as part of their overall marketing platform. Customers expect companies to participate in the conversation and if “the voice” of Life Sciences organizations is absent from the conversation, then consumers will continue have limited trust in the industry.

Which begs the question do you think there is there a place for the use of social media in the life sciences field?