6 Ways the Pharma Industry Can Improve Its Online Image in 2018

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“Dr. Google”, as we know, is often the first port of call for people searching for health information and support.

However, there is a lot of inaccurate information floating around the internet, labelling all pharmaceutical medications as “poisons” or “toxins.”

There is also a growing distrust of the pharmaceutical industry, fuelled by the “power-to-the-people” vigilante nature of social media. A single negative media story quickly catches fire and turns into a raging inferno across the social media landscape, further eroding the image of the pharmaceutical industry.

How can you move forward in such an inhospitable environment?

Here are six ways the pharma industry can improve its image in 2018:

1. Transparency in payments to healthcare professionals

Working with healthcare professionals is important for receiving advice on clinical trials, as well as feedback from physicians regarding patients’ tolerance of a medication. Healthcare professionals are rightfully paid for their time, but in the eyes of pharma skeptics, this “pay-off” may appear to be collusion between the pharma companies and healthcare professionals. Publishing payments to healthcare professionals increases transparency and gives critics less ammunition.

2. Transparency in clinical trial data

The pharmaceutical industry is often accused of hiding negative data and highlighting that which benefits the bottom line. Registering all trials with clinical research registries such as anzctr.org.au and ClinicalTrials.gov can help increase transparency. Also, making all data available to external scientists would allow for third-party verification, which might help reduce accusations of data rigging for profit.

3. Operate within the regulatory guidelines at all times

It is imperative that all pharma employees at all levels abide by regulatory guidelines and codes of conduct. Marketing tasks such as detailing may draw criticism for any behaviour which falls outside the bounds of legal – or barely legal. Be proactive in ensuring that all reps are sticking to industry guidelines.

4. Be a resource of evidence-based information

There is a metric tonne of bad, if not downright false, information about prescription medications on the internet. Keyboard warriors, many without scientific training, are looking for easy to understand, plain English information on the meds they’re taking, or considering taking. Invest in writing high quality evidence-based plain English content for your website that is free of complicated statistics and medical jargon. Don’t give them a reason to run to the arms of alarmist, fear-mongering websites.

5. Pick your battles…

The internet, social media in particular, has grown extremely tribal. In the eyes of many science-deniers, you are either “with us or against us” with very little middle ground. Dissent is quickly quashed and the dissenter outcast from the tribe. However, if the tone of discussion is civil, it may be worth presenting level-headed, evidence-based facts to counter misinformation. Resist attempts to argue with online trolls or anti-pharma lynch mobs who will reject everything that does not conform to their pre-existing beliefs.

6. …and use the right ammunition

Following on from above, when it comes to social media warfare, there are two types of ammunition: emotional daggers and evidence-based truth bombs. And they are used on two different playing fields. If an online forum is an emotion-charged irrational free-for-all, then all the evidence-based responses in the world will fall on blind eyes. In a forum where members are open-minded and looking for different viewpoints, publishing links to helpful, genuinely useful articles may be more than welcome in helping people make educated decisions about their health.

Take home message

In 2018, there are no gatekeepers of information. Power is in the hands of the people, but not all information they receive is accurate and unbiased. While lifestyle changes can favourably improve health outcomes for many people, there are medically warranted instances where a prescription medication is appropriate. Doing your part to operate with a high level of integrity and provide fair and balanced information written in simple terms that people can understand will help to improve the image of the pharma industry.

Check out these examples of Arterial’s campaigns which viscerally connected with consumers and resulted in high levels of positive online engagement.

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