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February 28, 2011 » Using Social Media to Fast Track Market Research

Market research is key in preparing for product launches, relaunches or programs.  In an environment where all patients and caregivers can grab the ear of pharma marketers through social media, we should not overlook the value of social media monitoring as a research tool.

For brands and markets with an active social community (Read: nearly all), a thorough social media analysis can provide vast information from all audiences from the casual observer to the defending brand advocate.  Patients and caregivers are communicating in blogs, commenting on articles, tweeting and participating in forums.  We can learn real-time feedback.  More importantly, it can provide real insights to business objectives.  So, why aren’t all pharma marketers listening?

  • Cost (time and budget)
  • Fear of social media
  • They don’t know what they should or can

Looking for the “Why” and the “What’s Next”

Social media is by no means a replacement for traditional market research.  It should never replace a quantitative survey, or supplant a focus group.  It can, however, provide marketers with a solid foundation of knowledge of consumer needs, sentiment and opinion towards the disease and/or brand.  It should empower marketers to establish the information they’ve learned by using traditional market research to quickly validate hypotheses.  Thus, using more traditional market research to spend more time drilling down  (the “why”) and uncover new findings (the “what’s next”).   

Take, for example, a recent project supporting a global brand.  A thorough and detailed social media analysis informed us of the brand’s limitations (limited brand awareness against a well-entrenched competitor) and marketplace expectations (desire for greater efficacy).  Using this research, we developed a patient message platform to test in traditional market research and discovered results that most aligned with our initial assumptions, based on our social media research.  More importantly, we were able to spend more time covering the “why” – why patients and caregivers acted in particular what and what motivations were driving their behavior.

Social media observation should be a part of every brand’s activities.  For brand managers planning market research, social media is an essential tool to lay a solid foundation:

  • Establish what questions need to be asked
  • Determine information to validate
  • Discover baseline patient and caregiver needs

Additionally, social media provides brand managers with information that may or may not be truthfully conveyed in a patient panel.  It is because participants are not being led by moderators or thinking about the expectations for responses that can make social media more revealing.  One of the products we support has a challenge in helping patients adhere to their treatment, where side effects can temporarily overcome symptom relief.  In this scenario, we have identified where patients drop-off in treatment.  We can provide specific indicators that predict if patients will stop taking their medication.  This information drives adherence programs and other relationship marketing initiatives.

Have you conducted a social media analysis of your brand?  Do you currently use social media chatter as the most informal method of market research?  If so, what have you found to be the pros and cons?


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