If you are a clinical research professional contemplating a new (or improved) social media presence for your company, you’ve come to the right place.
Social media platforms have particular social conventions, nuances, and technological constraints, all of which make each platform unique. And because every platform is unique, they all require a unique strategy.
To make matters more difficult, the needs, abilities, and constraints of your clinical research company will add an additional layer of complexity. Before you can determine the extent and scope of your organization’s presence on a particular platform, you must first identify these needs, abilities, and constraints.
To aid in this reflection, I’ll discuss three key questions your clinical trials company must consider before devising a social media strategy.
Serious consideration of these questions will save you time and frustration, as well as allow you to set realistic expectations. Your answers will ensure that you leverage social media in a way that best complements your organization. Stay tuned for a followup post, which will introduce the social media platforms and help you evaluate these platforms based on your answers.
But before we address these three questions, it’s important to understand what social media is and what it is not.
What is Social Media?
According to Wikipedia, social media “…is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.” The key phrase is “interactive dialogue.”
A social media platform is a set of technological tools that allow people to engage in social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin are all examples of social media platforms.
The distinction between social media and social media platforms may not seem important, but it is. Let me explain why.
Pharma v. Facebook
Keen to get in on the social media craze, many pharma marketers have used Facebook fan pages to maintain a presence for the companies they represent. Typically, these pages allow users to comment on the page, however this feature presents some regulatory risk for the pharma industry.
To eliminate this risk, Facebook has been allowing pharma marketers to disable the commenting feature on a case-by-case basis. That is, until recently. To the dismay of many pharma marketers, Facebook recently announced that they would no longer disable the commenting feature. Facebook had this to say about the decision:
We think these policy changes support consistency for the Facebook Pages product and encourage an authentic dialogue between people and businesses on Facebook.
In other words, Facebook feels that encouraging “authentic dialogue” is an essential component of their platform. Though pharma had a presence on Facebook, they were not embracing the spirit of social media.
This story is important because it illustrates that social media requires more than the use of a platform. Social media requires dialogue.
Pharma’s use of Facebook fan pages is just one example of how social media platforms can be used without actually practicing social media. In the same vein, Facebook ads are not social media because they do not allow interactive dialogue. Facebook ads are merely ads that happen to be placed on a social media platform.
In short, a social media presence without interactive dialogue is not social media at all.
3 Fundamental Questions for Clinical Trials Companies
With a firm understanding of what social media is, clinical trials professionals should ask three fundamental questions before engaging in social media.
Your time, resources, energy, ability, and challenges will largely determine how you answer these questions. And the answers to these questions will determine what kind of social media presence, if any, is right for your company.
1. How Much Can Your Clinical Trials Company Engage?
Before your clinical trials company embarks on a social media journey, ask yourself to what extent your organization is willing and able to engage in interactive dialogue. As we discussed earlier, social media is about interactive dialogue, but expectations for dialogue vary by platform.
The features of some social media platforms are inherently more conducive to dialogue, with some platforms naturally being more social than others. And for platforms that are particularly conducive to dialogue, social conventions often dictate that you engage in that dialogue.
Certainly, it’s possible to engage in little dialogue on an extremely social platform, but that practice conflicts with the social conventions expected by other users. Therefore, this sort of behavior tends to be frowned upon in social media circles.
If your presence on a particularly social platform is limited to broadcasting messages to others and engaging in self-promotion, you risk creating a less than positive perception of your clinical trials company.
At best, the perception will be that your company is not interested in what others have to say. At worst, the perception will be that your organization is attempting to control the conversation.
Don’t Be That Guy
To illustrate this point, imagine the following scenario.
You recently met a guy, Guy, who plays tennis and seems like an interesting person. You also enjoy tennis and like making new friends, so you ask Guy if he would like to play tennis sometime. He agrees.
Guy turns out to be a good tennis player and is fun to play against, but there is a problem. Every time you talk to Guy off the court, he talks about himself nonstop and expresses little interest in what you have to say. To make matters worse, Guy is always trying to promote his latest venture to you.
You quickly start tuning Guy out. As Guy rambles on, you think about your grocery list, attempt to solve a challenge you are facing at work, and refine your plan to take over the world. But eventually even your rich inner dialogue cannot help you tolerate Guy. So you make up an excuse about an injury to get out of playing tennis with him.
Don’t be that Guy.
If the entirety of your social media plan is to broadcast messages and engage in blatant self-promotion, make sure you choose a venue that is appropriate for that kind of activity. Most social media platforms are not the place.
Guy’s behavior would have been much more appropriate in a conference booth as a representative for his company. (Although, I would argue that listening is always a good practice, regardless of time or place, but that’s a topic for another day.)
If you act like Guy on a social media platform that is highly social, others are not likely to be receptive to your message, and you risk actually harming your image.
2. Will My Clinical Trials Company Show Up?
The first question on our list was about the quality of your social media presence, while this one is about the frequency of your social media presence.
When starting a new social media profile, it’s easy to be optimistic. The social media world is full of possibilities, and it is your oyster. You might imagine getting a bazillion Facebook fans. Or you might imagine your Twitter musings going viral and being retweeted widely. Barack Obama himself will probably use one of your quips in a speech.
But this is not Field of Dreams, and they will not come just because you tweet it. Unless your name is Britney Spears, you need to be prepared for a less than stellar reception to the social media world.
When faced with the reality that no one is knocking down your social media door, it’s easy to get discouraged. And it’s easy to show up with less frequency until, finally, you stop showing up at all.
Before you embark on a social media journey, think very carefully whether your company has the time, resources, will, patience, persistence, and ability to show up consistently. You will need all of these characteristics to achieve social media success.
I’m not sure I’d consider showing up to be a full 80% of social media success, but it is extremely important. Regardless of your goals for social media, you will not meet those goals without showing up consistently.
How Often Can My Company Show Up?
If you think you can show up consistently, it’s time to ask how often you can realistically expect to show up. Just as social media platforms vary in the level of dialogue that users expect, they also vary in the frequency of dialogue that users expect.
For example, if you can only check in to your social media profile once a week or so, Twitter is not the place for you. Active twitterers update much more often so you would not be remembered. For Linkedin, on the other hand, a weekly update might be just fine depending on your goals.
An Exception: Staking Your Social Media Claim
Though I don’t generally advocate starting a social media profile and then abandoning it, there is one exception to this rule. In some instances, you may not be ready for a presence on a particular social media platform, but you want to reserve the right to do so later.
In this case, you may want to claim your brand before someone else. For example, you can register the Twitter handle or Facebook URL that you would want to use.
If you decide to claim a profile for future use, fill out some basic profile information and redirect visitors to a better place to find information about you.
3. What Are My Clinical Research Company’s Goals?
Do not jump into social media simply because everyone else is doing it. Before you even think about creating social media profiles, take the time to think about what you would like to accomplish.
Defining your goals is important for 4 primary reasons:
- Social media may not be the best avenue to achieve your goals.
Social media can be a powerful tool for accomplishing a variety of goals, but it is certainly not a panacea. Once your goals are defined, you might realize that there are better tools for achieving your objectives.
For example, social media may not be the best way to drive study-specific patient recruitment. Many clinical research professionals tout social media for study recruitment, but I don’t share that excitement. Though social media can bolster an existing recruitment campaign, I find online ads to be far more effective recruitment driver.
Because social media platforms vary so widely in their feature set and characteristics, some platforms are particularly aligned with specific business goals. Conversely, some social media platforms are horribly aligned with specific business goals.
By determining your goals early, you can focus on social media platforms that are well-suited to help you achieve those goals.
- Your goals will determine how you use each social media platform.
As we discussed earlier, technological constraints and social norms will limit your strategies for each social media platform. However, you still have quite a bit of latitude in how you use each platform.
With clearly defined goals, you can chart a strategy for that platform that best serves your business goals.
- You can’t measure what you haven’t defined.
Once your social media campaign is up and running, you will need a way to assess your progress.
If you do not have defined goals, that progress will be difficult to measure accurately and consistently.
Once you have defined your goals, you will be able to determine your key performance indicators (KPIs). And these indicators are what will ultimately help you improve, thus giving you the ability to achieve your goals.
What kind of goals can be achieved through social media? I put together a list of the big ones, but you are by no means limited to the goals listed.
Goals that can be achieved with social media include:
- Business Development
- Collaboration with others in the Clinical Trials Industry
- Business Intelligence
- Building Patient Awareness
- Building Patient Trust
Social Media Platforms
And now to recap, we looked at three big questions that deserve consideration before jumping in to social media. They are:
- How much can you engage?
- Will you show up? With what frequency?
- What are your goals?
Now that you’ve answered these questions, you will be equipped to chart the scope and direction of your social media strategy in a manner that best complements your organization.
Stay tuned for the followup post, which will introduce you to the social media platforms and help you evaluate these platforms based on your answers.
Do you have comments? What did I miss? Please put your thoughts in the comments below.
Carmen Gonzalez says
Thank you for putting forth a reasoned and solid set of criteria for social media consideration in clinical trial recruitment. There are two few voices addressing this side of the health care fence. You ought to consider presenting at the global conference of the Association of Clinical Trial Research Professionals (ACRP). Good job.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree that there are too few voices in this space, and I hope that will change. Social media and recruitment are challenging topics, but I think we would all benefit from more discussion. So I really appreciate your comment and look forward to hearing your thoughts via Twitter, etc.
Christian Meyer (mrcmeyer.com) says
Hi Rahlyn – I recently started with a presence in the social media world – and my feeling is that blogging is an area yhat could deserve more attention. Facebook and Twitter are standardized tools which can serve specific and – in my mind – limited purposes. The big opprtunity to tailor your presence towards your needs is hidden in the world od blogs.
I would love to see an analysis from you about blogging as a tool for social media presence. The level of creativity and possibility is so much higher with blogging – but it is also much more complex and requires skills and effort.
Rahlyn Gossen says
Yes, for those that make the time for blogs, they are far more valuable than a presence on individual social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. And unlike a social media presence, you own your blog and are not beholden to the whims of particular platforms.
But blogs are a big commitment and require a lot of time to do well. So I hesitate to encourage everyone to have a blog because it just isn’t feasible for everyone to do it. But for those that can, blogs are great.
That’s a great topic suggestion. I’ll put it on my list of possible topics. Thanks for reading!