A New Frontier: Customer Engagement in the Pharmaceutical Industry

lwarburt    October 11, 2015
  1. Title of Post: A New Frontier: Customer Engagement in the Pharmaceutical Industry

    Industry: Pharmaceuticals

    Web References: Wikepedia, Health Canada, Pharmaceutical Advertising  Advisory Board,Youtube,Twitter, Boehringer Ingelheim ,Olgilvy Healthworld, Sound Cloud Galderma, Instagram


    It may seem like an oxymoron to include customer engagement and strategic business management  in the same sentence to achieve a united goal, and in no other sector may this seem more apparent than in the pharmaceuticals industry.


    Traditionally pharmaceutical companies have relied heavily on the educational and influential strategies of “marketing” to the prescriber which were the physician or formulary decision makers.

    With the explosive digital accessibility of health information, pharmaceutical companies have recognized the strategic business need to adjust their concept of customers to include the end-user of their product; namely the patient. They have recognized the need to jump into the foggy digital abyss and be present and accounted for, or be left behind or worse, suffer brand and corporate defamation and/or potential legal consequences.


    Customer engagement is a complicated issue for pharmaceutical companies as they are bonded by a strict scope of regulatory advertising rules set by Health Canada.

    The industry’s advertising governing body, Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board, (PAAB) paab_b&wplays a chief role in guiding companies and thereby protecting consumers. The importance of this role can not be understated as consumer protection is and should be paramount in this industry.

    Beyond just the business focus on profits is the growing awareness of ensuring that content and dialogue are patient-centric with a key focus on health and wellness.  Perhaps with the changing identity of the key customer, in an industry that is legally risk averse, and the complexities of regulations, the pharmaceutical industry has been slower to adopt and implement more involved customer engagement strategies through various platforms.

    Discussion of social media being utilized for customer engagement is a hot topic in the  pharmaceutical industry. Some companies, as reported by Ogilvy Healthworld, have utilized social media to gain customer engagement better than others. It is not a simple topic to dissect in these early days of its utilization and some industry professionals voice concerns, even suggesting that the industry is missing the mark with customer engagement through social media. The new frontier is vast and complicated and the discussions are just in their infancy.

    Several examples below outline pharmaceutical companies that have dipped their toes into today’s digital customer engagement;

    Boehringer Ingelheim  took to Twitter utilizing Tweet Chats to initiate dialogue with customers on the subject of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Twitter for business reported an impressive digital footprint of customer engagement in this exercise:

    • 2.79% peak engagement rate on Promoted Tweets
    • 1.7M Tweet chat impressions
    • @Boehringer mentioned at #ERS2013 over 489 times on Twitter

    Boehringer has also used utilized Twitter in an attempt to engage medical media, heath care professionals and digital opinion leaders in online conversations during a  medical conference, the European Respiratory Society Congress, using the hashtag  #ERS2013 to connect attendees.

    This latter strategy focusses the engagement on the traditional customer, the healthcare professional. It does come with its critics from industry watchdogs, healthcare professionals and the host(s) of the medical events, as the potential for Tweet content that is non-complaint with regulations is ever looming.

    bi yes Untitled


    Another example of a pharmaceutical company endeavouring to gain patient engagement is Galderma and their TactuPump for the treatment of acne. In this particular case, the customer can sign into a closed site via entering the drug DIN #. The “Backstage Pass”, as Galderma has termed it, creates a sense of personal inclusion  and perhaps enhances the customer experience to feel more private, encouraging more patient engagement through active question asking as mentioned below.

    UntitledThe site is static highlighting managing acne, and of course the Galderma  product, Tactupump. There are no opportunities for customers to modify and or make comments, however the Contact Us page is a direct email link to Galaderma’s medical department; a safe way to ensure appropriate medical questions are answered  in compliance with pharmaceutical advertising regulations. This static/safe approach is one of the more common ways pharmaceutical companies appear to be digitally populating the web in an attempt to gain customer engagement.

There are many more examples where pharmaceutical company driven digital sites share and encourage health and wellness. These sites, although not heavily invested in direct feedback from customers, do provide exceptional content in managing disease(s), provide usable patient tools and link to valuable resources. An elementary customer engagement forum, but engagement to some degree regardless.

A recent serious social media crisis occurred for the pharmaceutical company Duchesnay and the brand Diclegis, a prescription treatment for morning sickness. Duchesnay spokes person celebrity Kim Kardashian took to Instagram and touted her personal story of using Diclegis and the benefits therein. Press and the FDA immediately became aware and raised questions regarding whether this social media post was regulatory compliant. When pharmaceuticals are “advertised”, the potential risks are required to be included in the messaging. Kardashian did include a hyperlink on the Instagram post, but on Aug 11 in a warning letter to Duchesnay executive vice-president Eric Gervais, the FDA OPDP Division Director Robert Dean wrote that these hyperlinks were inadequate substitutes for text on the drug’s risks that should have accompanied Kardashian West’s endorsement.



This is a prime example that demonstrates  customer engagement via social media in the pharmaceutical industry is entering  a new and uncharted  frontier. It is likely there will be more “learn from experience scenarios ” in the future. The rules may be strict, however, they are also being written and updated in real time to stay current with the digital era.

It is no wonder drug companies are cautiously exploring customer engagement, beyond the safe static content driven forums.

Lessons learned:

  • The terms of customer engagement in the pharmaceutical industry are vastly complicated, triangularly linked by corporate/business goals, advertising regulations, providing consumer protection and the health/wellness of the patient.
  • The customer engagement digital landscape in the pharmaceutical industry can provide exceptional benefit to customers and the health care field at large. On the other hand  digital customer engagement could be utilized unethically and create harm.
  • Pharmaceutical companies by the very nature of their very tightly held proprietary needs are slowly moving towards more open and transparent customer engagement.
  • Dialogue and in depth debate regarding company intent, building trust with and/or without profits and customer privacy issues are just a few of the topics that this new frontier will undoubtedly explore.


Submitted by ; L Warburton /Student/Social Media for Business Performance/University of Waterloo

To contact the author of this entry please email: laura@laurawarburton.com

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Programme Director, Social Media for Business Performance