Social Media’s Complex Club

First published in Pharmaceutical Executive.

The evolution of social media pushes engagement with health care audiences forward.

Zoom star replaced the podium star

Pharm Exec consulted Christian Rodgers, industry marketing veteran and senior vice president, social media, at PRECISIONeffect, to discuss key opinion leaders (KOLs), digital opinion leaders (DOLs), and useful platforms. Rodgers had regularly worked with KOLs, and when the adoption of social media in the industry took hold, it gave way to the newly coined DOL. Initially, KOLs didn’t prioritize maintaining a reputation on social media; so, the aim, which was challenging for Rodgers and his team, became finding doctors that had influence both at the podium and on social media and were the right fit for a particular topic.

COVID-19 was the accelerator, of course, as healthcare and life in general turned digital and virtual. The KOL podium was replaced by the DOL Zoom to handle peer-to-peer education and conference activity. It was cheaper, could reach more people, stimulate a more robust and diverse discussion, and it was convenient. Much like everything else that turned digital and social, DOLs established a firm foothold and are now more important than ever in terms of achieving the exponential reach social media offers.

Social media, previously an incremental investment for pharma, is now foundational, much like Google Ads were a year ago—its highest value lies in being able to push invaluable content out to the right audience at the right time via precision targeting. And there are many ways of doing that: Twitter, as previously mentioned; although Instagram is pulling away from Facebook, the pair offer the same algorithm and wide audience; LinkedIn has improved its tech slowly and is very important to HCPs; lastly, TikTok, despite its worrying connection to China’s Communist Party and its associated data concerns (at latest count, seven US states have banned TikTok from government phones), has incredible advantages and traits that distinguishes itself from competitors.

“Creating effective TikTok videos is less about generating polished, highly produced content and more about offering audiences content that comes off as authentic and genuine,” Rodgers tells Pharm Exec. “Content that feels professional or over-produced can convey brand messaging well but immediately reads as advertising—which means it must work harder to grab users’ attention and elicit engagement. Most digital media are ‘lean in,’ whereas new vertical video formats like TikTok, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, require a ‘lean-back’ mindset, leaving social viewers with an experience much closer to television than the more traditional social media networks. The algorithms are so strong and responsive that content is more often about reaching the right audience at the right time.”


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