An introduction to healthcare & medical digital marketing

The use of digital marketing for business purposes has grown year on year and now outstrips the annual spend of TV advertising. It is proving highly lucrative for businesses across all industries, including the pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare sectors.

A private medical practice or consultant can gain more brand exposure and consequently attract more new patients by using measurable digital marketing channels. We’ve put together a run-down of the main types of (non advertising related) digital marketing activities that businesses can explore.

Social Media Marketing

Essentially, this is used to attract fractured customers you may not reach through conventional channels such as direct mail. When used properly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can become social hubs for your business and help you to reach both patients and medical professionals. Your ‘followers’ and ‘connections’ can communicate directly with you – but more importantly you can also respond and interact with them.

Facebook has over 2.45 billion active users: even if your target market is only a tiny fraction of that, it’s still a huge opportunity to reach people who might not otherwise hear about your company.

It’s very easy to link to your company’s social media pages from your website, and this is a great way for your company to build a list of people who might otherwise browse your website and then leave, never to return.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, means gearing up your website so it ranks highly for certain keywords when users type those keywords into the search engines. When done well, healthcare SEO can vastly increase the amount of patients and healthcare professionals you attract onto your site.

By researching the search-terms used by your target audience, an effective SEO strategy can be drawn up to make sure these words appear prominently on your website. This is something that should be done with the help of a professional, who knows how to use keywords effectively in your site’s metadata and copy.

Content Marketing

Content creation is an important part of digital startegy and the SEO process which comes after the initial on-site keyword optimisation has been carried out. By creating and syndicating high quality pieces of content you’re more likely to generate contextually relevant backlinks to your site. ‘Backlinks’ are links to your site placed on other relevant websites across the web. Done well, this can increase traffic to your website and raise its position in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

A well thought through, strategic approach to content marketing that is tailored your business will enable you to consistently create high quality content and digital assets that get shared online via social media and web links. This approach will help you to build your online reputation which will have a positive impact on your SEO strategy. In conjunction with relevant and regularly updated content, a well designed medical website with clear navigation and conversion points will help you to take full advantage of the highly targeted traffic that lands on your site.

Using LinkedIn to engage with HCPs

Using LinkedIn to engage with HCPsIncreasingly healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing budgets are moving to online spaces. In 2010 eMarketer predicted that online pharmaceutical advertising spending would rise to $1.52 billion by 2014. In 2011 spending rose 23.3% to $1.58 billion, and eMarketer are now predicting that online pharmaceutical advertising spend is likely to reach $2.48 billion by 2016.

Marketing healthcare & pharmaceutical products that tend to specific diseases will require niche marketing strategies. Online and social media present an unparalleled opportunity to reach a highly-targeted group of individuals, that include healthcare professionals (HCPs). Using the various digital media channels at their disposal, pharmaceutical marketers can now produce highly customisable campaigns which target specific audiences based on a number of factors and activities.

But online advertising is not just about selling; it could also be about recruitment, human resources, identifying key opinion leaders and reaching out to them. In terms of marketing to professionals there’s no better platform than LinkedIn ads, which has proved massively effective for B2B industries due to the wealth of personal, professional information which LinkedIn users provide.

For regulatory reasons highly-targeted marketing in this form is very appealing to pharmaceutical companies that want to engage with HCPs. LinkedIn allows advertisers to serve ads to users with certain qualifications or titles, as well as the types of groups they have signed up to and the industry sectors they work in. It means that advertising spend can be extremely efficient and that specific people can be targeted for specific ads.

As well as the professional information which most users submit when using the site, there are also company pages and discussion groups on LinkedIn, which can be great place to engage audiences. LinkedIn groups encourage users to use LinkedIn for longer sessions of reading and sharing information, and promotion through groups can be a good way of targeting specific individuals while they are thinking/talking about a particular issue or topic in a group environment.

The difference with LinkedIn when compared to other social media platforms, is that LinkedIn is business-orientated. Whether recruiting or networking to promote products and services, most users on LinkedIn are acting in a professional capacity, and as such, it is a unique social platform in this respect.

With LinkedIn advertisers have the ability to target campaigns focusing on a particular company, a particular job role or even by geographical location. You can also target members by gender and age. There are over 1.5 million healthcare professionals on LinkedIn, and a quick search can identify:

  • 261, 514 users whose job titles includes the word “physician”
  • 151, 088 users who list themselves as a “medical specialist”
  • 267,883 who identify themselves as a “doctor”
  • 103, 273 who identify themselves as a “clinical specialist”

Because LinkedIn is so business-focused, its user data is ten times more accurate than any other social network’s registration data. It means that most LinkedIn users are being themselves in order to connect with work colleagues or other professionals, and so need to be honest and open about their employer, their job role, academic qualifications and experience. Accurate profile data makes targeted campaigns work – reducing wastage and keeping to budget.

LinkedIn & Google DoubleClick

LinkedIn has also partnered with the Google double click Ad Exchange, which means that targets can be identified based on job titles and employers, and they can be marketed to across Google’s network on a cost-per-click basis. Combined with Google-support capabilities such as re-targeting, this could prove a wise tactic for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies looking to target healthcare professionals.

Nearly all young adults connected via social networking sites

A total of 91% of young adults in the UK are connected to social networking sites.

According to new research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), half of all web users are also accessing the internet via their mobile phone.

The ONS opinions survey also reveals that 45% of internet users have accessed the internet via a mobile phone at some point this year.

The survey also shows that surfing on the move is a growing trend.

In total, 4.9 million people connected to the internet via wireless hotspots in 2011 – double the numbers from last year.

The ONE research also shows that social networking is becoming more and more popular.

A total of 57% of adult internet users have used online social networks this year – a figure up from 43% last year.

Younger surfers make up the bulk of people using their phones to connect to the internet. Just over 70% of 16-24 year olds use their phone to access the internet, whilst a massive 91% use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The smartphone boom is largely responsible for the huge growth of social networking sites. Facebook and Twitter are now better optimised for mobile use than ever, whilst even LinkedIn, the business networking site, has just launched its very well received smartphone app.

FDA releases new off-label social media guidelines

The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded 2011 by announcing new social media marketing guidelines for pharmaceutical companies.
The FDA released its “Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices” document, which mentions Twitter and YouTube.

The 15-page guidance document addresses off-label information, telling pharma companies how they should respond to consumers who are looking for information for a prescription drug on aspects outside of its intended use.

Some critics say that the advice given is too ambiguous – a comment that the FDA refutes.

Karen Mahoney, an FDA spokeswoman, said: “We understand the level of interest and wanted to get out what we had available to provide guidance.”

“This is just the first of multiple planned guidances that respond to testimony and comments from the Part 15 public hearing that FDA held in November 2009.”

In the guidance document, the FDA writes: “FDA recognizes that it can be in the best interest of public health for a firm to respond to unsolicited requests for information about off-label uses of the firm’s products that are addressed to a public forum, as other participants in the forum who offer responses may not provide or have access to the most accurate and up-to-date information about the firm’s products.

“Statements that promote a drug or medical device for uses other than those approved or cleared by FDA may be used as evidence of a new intended use. Introducing a product into commerce for such a new intended use without FDA approval or clearance would, under these requirements, generally violate the law.”

Digital channels take lion’s share of pharma marketers’ media mix

Digital channels are finally starting to overtake traditional channels in their share of pharmaceutical product teams’ overall media mix.

According to a study by consulting firm Cutting Edge Information called Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing and Social Media: Managing Growth, Mitigating Risk and Mastering Strategy, digital channels formed 54.7% of drug companies’ media mix this year, compared with traditional media’s share of 42.1%.

While the use of all three main digital marketing channels (mobile media, social media and websites) increased throughout 2011, mobile led the way. Use of mobile grew from 5.6% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2011 – a nearly threefold increase.

Casey Ferrell, research analyst at Cutting Edge Information, led the study. He said: “It’s particularly interesting that digital media growth has accelerated in 2011, especially for small and mid-sized pharma companies.”

In 2010, digital marketing channels increased to a combined 40.6% of the average media mix, while traditional marketing channels went down to 55.0% compared to 2009.

Social media made the largest gain as a percentage change in the media marketing mix in 2010, rising 53.9% from 6.3 % of the mix to 9.7%. Traditional digital marketing such as websites and mobile marketing also increased slightly during this time, while print media and television/radio slipped by 5% and 2% respectively. However, those numbers rose significantly in 2011.

The full report can be found at

Doctors need to use social media more, says report

Doctors are more likely to use social media channels for education and communicating with fellow healthcare professionals than they are for interacting with their patients and taking advantage of possible digital marketing opportunities offered by social media.

According to a new report from American consulting firm CSC, doctors are reluctant to use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to interact with their patients, but they need to overcome this.

The report states that larger hospitals, academic medical centres and paediatric clinics are the healthcare institutions that are most likely to use social media. Jason Lee, lead author of the report, explains: “Large hospitals are more likely to use it because they have large budgets. They might also need to spend more on legal resources to check their Facebook and Twitter postings.”

Meanwhile, children’s hospitals are most likely to use social media for fundraising activities.

The report suggests that several business goals can be achieved with the help of social media, such as patient monitoring, care management and care coordination. It says that care management in particular will be helped by the increasing role that social media will have to play in it.

Lee says that some of the most frequently stated reasons that doctors give for avoiding linking up with their patients via social media channels include worries about liability, privacy and lack of reimbursement.

New social media guide published to help doctors get online

An online healthcare directory based in the US has published a free online guide aimed at doctors to help them understand how they can use social media, an aspect of web technology that many healthcare organsiations have yet to exploit to the full for healthcare and pharma marketing.

Avvo, which provides listings and ratings for doctors across the States, has just made its guide “Being Influential Online: Social Media Tactics for Physicians” available via its Facebook page.

It says that the social media guide is designed to help doctors and healthcare marketing professionals to establish an online presence that could help them attract new patients, expand their referral networks or better manage their online reputation. Expansion into digital marketing for healthcare is the aim.

The guide looks at issues such as liability and social media and how to use search engine optimisation (SEO) tactics in order to achieve a better search engine ranking.

In addition it helps doctors to establish their core online presence through a series of 15 easy-to-follow steps.

The guide was also released and distributed at the Third Annual Health Care Social Media Summit, which was held in Rochester, Michigan, last week.

One American doctor, Howard Luks MD, was part of a panel speaking at the event. He told a local healthcare news website that there were currently several barriers stopping doctors from engaging with social media. These included a lack of understanding about Twitter and its use; a lack of understanding regarding how social media can help patients and a lack of awareness about social media guidelines.

To download the guide visit

Pharma social media sites get own Wiki

More and more pharmaceutical companies are realising the importance of digital marketing and are establishing a presence on social media websites. With so many organisations taking part on the online pharma revolution, it can be difficult to keep track of who is online and where.

An American blogger has come up with a way to help keep track of what’s going on.

Jonathan Richman, who writes a blog called ‘Does of Digital: Improving Healthcare Through Digital Technology’, has listed a compendium of all of the pharmaceutical companies with pages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s called the ‘Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki’.

Although US companies are heavily represented, international companies appear on the list too – including those with a strong presence in the UK such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

The Wiki also includes listings of pharmaceutical companies on YouTube.
Each listing contains a description of the organisation’s social media presence along with a link to it.

Introducing the Wiki, Richman writes: “With a growing number of pharma companies testing the waters of social media, an intrepid few have tried to keep track of every site, YouTube video, Twitterer, Facebook page, and so on.

“It’s become a daunting task and no one list seems to have it all, so we created the Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki.”

Richman is taking submissions for the Wiki. To submit your company’s social media profile, or to view the Wiki itself, visit:

ABPI releases social media marketing guidelines

Pharmaceutical companies can implement social media marketing with more confidence thanks to new guidance issued by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The ABPI social media guidelines suggest best practice for managing events and pharmaceutical data via social media and the internet in general.

They also provide a useful framework for pharmaceutical marketing professionals in the industry who wish to use social media to benefit their organisations.

In a white paper entitled Pharmacovigilance and the Internet: A Call for Change, the ABPI says that blogs, tweets and other online communications and communities hold a mass of important data that could complement traditional marketing methodologies. However, this useful information is not actually being accessed by many stakeholders in the industry because present legislation does not support marketing professionals in their obligations to collect and work with data.

The paper suggests a number of points for pharma marketing professionals to consider, including following discussions on social media sites, sharing messages via one-way communication and engaging with the general public via interactive communication. It also says that social media is a valuable tool with which to communicate externally with customers. According to the ABPI, eight out of ten internet users search for health information online.