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10 common social media marketing mistakes in pharma

Recently I have spent some time working on Ferring’s social media presence with the incredible team led by Bhavin Vaid at the headquarters in St-Prex. I also finished my entire vacation getting lost in Tiktok. That was not as smart as I felt older instantly.
But remember: the new format of communications is set by these platforms. Who would have guessed stories would be so popular ten years ago?
Scaling the footprint of a company goes, of course, by sharing best practices but knowing what to avoid is better.
Here is an extract of these discussions with some of my folks along the year leading the path on how, as a team, we could manage social media better for our audiences.

1. Not having a social media strategy or plan

Billions of people use social media, giving a huge opportunity to reach and engage your audiences. Yet, we still see irregular updates to social media pages, low customer service and poor-quality of content all around. Yet, it knows why we want to share and what should be the value-added of these presences for a company. So, let’s dive in a second.

Why is this still the case?
There are many potential reasons, but one is that there are too many opportunities. There are so many platforms and ways to interact (that evolve rapidly) that it can be completely overwhelming. In addition, it’s so easy to start with social media that it may seem that devising a social media strategy without a template to follow is unnecessary or too daunting.
It can be much more tempting to get it out without thinking. However, by doing that, you cannot know if the content is relevant and engaging or if it’s done the job you intended.

So, where to start?
Social networks should be part of an integrated multichannel brand strategy.
First: Create a social media marketing plan
It would help if you started by creating a list of tasks that follows a structure you could replicate, scale and sustain. Here I am not recommending any methodologies or tools as you could take a piece of paper and get started, but if you ask me, we are currently using Trello.
Using this as an approach, your planning document should include the following:
Situation Analysis: An assessment of the current situation (internally, e.g. team capacity to manage SM channels, and externally such as competition, target audience etc.). I recommend having done social media listening before, as it does help get a helicopter view.
Objectives: A list of SMART objectives to be achieved. Ask yourself what you need to achieve and how running this initiative will solve your company group objectives or your brand’s must-win battles.
Brand Strategy: A plan to get there based on insights about your target audiences and the content formats and types to engage your audience and hit your targets. Drafting a strategy means seeing the outcomes and slicing the steps to go there safely. Risks are there, so you need to mitigate them at this level. Don’t forget the boundaries of the web are languages and not countries. Keep that in mind when the strategy is localised.
Tactics: Which networks to use, how often to share content, who will be responsible, what content to share etc. For some, this is the fun part, but this is also where you have to prepare the field for scalability. For example, going from 1K to 1M, users in a community would use different tactics and resources. Are you keeping this internally or externally?
Actions: Deliverables (what’s in and out of scope). At that stage, you need to be clear on what is asked to be done by your resources. This could be job descriptions and project scope of work for agencies.
Control: A set of benchmarks and KPIs to help analyse results and a means of reporting against these. Don’t forget the governance of the activity, as the fast pace of running social media would mean you need to keep a short sight of what’s happening.
By formulating a thorough plan that works for your business, you can ensure that social media does not sit in isolation, is sustainable, and plays an integral part in your customer experience

2. Limited understanding of the audience

Without an understanding of what the preferred social media use looks like for your target audience, you can’t possibly begin to reach and engage with them effectively.
You may have a firm grasp of who your customer is and how they behave offline, but do you know how they interact on social media? And remember, whether you are involved with them or not, your customers will already be talking about your brand or product.
Which brands do they follow? How do they interact with content? Which types of content elicit an action? Which social networks do they use most? When are they online? What are they talking about and sharing?
These are just a few questions brands should know before you can hope for significant engagement. Without any knowledge of this, you may not even be concentrating on the right social network that your customer is using!

Recommendation: Conduct audience research and social media listening
Use the social media monitoring tools to understand the type of conversation, the environments, the tone of brand mentions, and powerful influencers, and allow you to lead and direct dialogue proactively. Without a consistent method of listening, your brand could miss out on potential opportunities that your competitors spot.

What should you do?
Use third-party tools to monitor how your audience uses social media, conversations about your brand and topics of interest, where they have them, and what you can learn from your competitors.


  • Where most engagement comes from, e.g. which platform?
  • Brand mentions (including product names) to see what people are saying about you
  • Campaign or related hashtags
  • Sentiment – are you being mentioned positively or negatively?
  • Alerts or news of relevance – engage with it to show authority on an issue
  • Your advocates and possible influencers
  • What are your competitors sharing, and how engaging is it

3. No content strategy or schedule

Social media is an activity that can start from day one without planning, and anything can be shared with an audience. What usually happens with this approach, though, is that the substance of what is being shared becomes weak, or significant events are overlooked.

Why would someone continue to follow your brand when you are not giving them a reason to?
To see real success from your social media efforts, I advise that you build a sufficiently detailed content calendar explaining the type of content that your brand wants to share, whether it needs to be created or already exists, dates to be planned/avoided, and how, where and when it’ll be distributed. The idea is that whatever you share builds awareness, familiarity, and action intent as part of the customer lifecycle marketing strategy.
Create a document to help you to plan great content for your social media audience, including content creation, curation, and an editorial calendar.
Your content marketing plan should answer the following questions:

  • What content do you intend to post/promote on social media?
  • How often will you post updates?
  • What is the target audience for every kind of content?
  • Does the content already exist?
  • Who will create the content if it is new?
  • How will you promote it?

Once you have answered the questions above, your editorial calendar should include dates and times you intend to publish Tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts and blogs you plan to use during your social media campaigns.
If you want to download an example of a great calendar, check this starter pack from Linkedin.

4. Insufficient dedicated resources

In keeping with the last point, whilst forming your content plan, deciding who will be responsible for the channel is a vital piece of the puzzle.
Without a dedicated person (or team if you are lucky), social media can bump down the list of priorities over time, meaning that updates can become infrequent or nonexistent. We have seen this mistake many times and are sure you have too.
If resources are limited, you may also find these problems:

  • Keeping each social presence up to date with content relevant to its audience can become impossible, so content is shared with a broad-brush approach.
  • Social profiles go days, weeks, months and even years without an engaging update (that your competitors may be taking advantage of)
  • Profiles lose the tone of voice and consistency
  • Updates lack purpose
  • Whether you’ve decided to go for it, use it as a customer service channel, or want to take social media more seriously, plan appropriate resources for it.

While there are options to put in place when you don’t have enough dedicated resources, such as bots, they aren’t surefire ways to deliver your social media strategy or maintain your brand reputation.

So what do you need to do?
Allocate a person(s) to take responsibility for planning and managing your social media strategy – if you don’t have the in-house expertise, look to outsource

  • Give them clear priorities.
  • Give them time to do it (on top of their existing workloads)
  • Please give them the tools to save time, e.g. Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule posts, IFTTT recipes to trigger actions based on events, Google Analytics dashboards etc.
  • Agree on processes for planning, approval and publishing

Recommended resource: How to find and create social media graphics
Great visuals are essential on social media, but they don’t take as many resources as you think. I recommend Canva, Easil, PlaceIt, Lumen and Icons8 to find a great starter pack. If you are adventurous, you can also go on Envato and Upwork to get some freelancers and paid resources.

5. No business reporting metrics

Without the correct KPIs and reporting metrics in place, there is no way of understanding if you are concentrating your efforts in the right areas. You won’t be able to say what, when or why a piece of content encouraged more engagement than another, and you probably won’t be able to compare it to past or future activity. Worst of all, you won’t know the commercial impact of your social media activity – how does social media impact leads or sales?
Wait ——Sales???
Yes, even in healthcare, you could connect your marketing channels to understand the behaviour change of your prescribers towards a brand. It is up to you to map out the funnel.
So, you’ll have no idea how well your social media activities work.
You may also focus on the wrong metrics, such as pursuing ‘likes’ or ‘follower’ numbers rather than engagement. Growing your numbers can be tempting, but if they are the wrong people for your target audience (through poor targeting) or being ignored once they are there (seeing no posts from you), there is little point.
However, time is precious for everyone, and piling through endless reports or data won’t be effective.

Recommendation: Devise an effective social media dashboard
Create a quick-to-complete and easy-to-use dashboard report that captures and reports the impact of your social media marketing campaigns. Focus on less, more insightful metrics than trying to monitor too much.

So what should you do?
Check the in-built insights reports for each platform – monitor daily fluctuations to spot a change quickly and react, e.g. a sudden spike in brand mentions or engagement on a particular post.
Every week, as well as keeping an eye on your follower numbers, look at what is happening as a result, e.g. referrals from social to your website, time on page/visit depth, sales, goal conversion etc.
Every month, compare performance month on month, compare periods to the prior year, and look at KPIs affecting acquisition, engagement, conversion and retention.
Using this insight will allow you to plan content that encourages further engagement.

Recommended resource: We use PowerBI, but you could also use Google Data Studio. Better adopt something simple first and then scale the complexity with the value brought by the insights.

6. No customer service

All too often, brands have great planned content with a dedicated resource but forget that the key to engagement is a conversation – even brands you’d assume had it down.
Answering and responding to comments is a massive part of the job. This is where you can interact on a 1-2-1 level with a customer, whether helping with a presales query, troubleshooting a product question, responding to a complaint, or helping with an after-sales query. This highlights the need for dedicated resources even more.
Social media is an extension of your customer service and, as mentioned earlier in this guide, can touch every aspect of the customer lifecycle marketing strategy.

Recommendation: Give something back
Answer every comment, message or brand mention received, and offer something over and above a standard ‘auto-response’.

So what should I do?
Always questions or queries – even if negative
Don’t EVER ignore a negative comment!
Monitor brand and hashtag mentions (and misspells) regularly -most people get the handles wrong, and you may never know about a comment.
Reshare, retweet, repin or repost content if mentions are positive, e.g. blog reviews.
Providing helpful content to help your followers based on FAQs
Where relevant, share other people’s content (mainly from influencers)
Offer help in conversations where they can lend a hand

Recommended resource: build a response grid with an escalation process. You could use one of my favourite tools, which is a risk matrix:
Connect it to your KPIs dashboard, tag the messages in various colours and weight them according to the following criterion:
Now, no more excuses: you can track worldwide all languages and make sure your tool is configured to bring templated answers approved by your various stakeholders.

7. Badly managed PR disasters

Whether you like it or not, once a piece of content, offers, or news story is in the broader environment, people will take to social media to talk about it. Unfortunately, even if it’s a good piece of news, it won’t constantly be fed back on positively. Unfortunately, jumping on angry bandwagons is also something that society seems to fuel periodically.
Social media is another communication method that brands can use to help with situations, e.g. to offer information or to allay fears around an issue. However, it can also cause PR disasters, such as sharing a post that features an incorrect image or reinforces negative stereotypes.
Recommendation: Include social media guidelines
Ensure your social media strategy includes a policy of preventing and mitigating PR mistakes if any harmful messages are broadcasted.

So what should you do?
Tackle problems head-on – never ignore comments, always answer them with a polite response, and do it as quickly as you can
NEVER argue – use social media to suppress anger and diffuse situations; offer a response but also direct communication offline, e.g. to an email address, private messaging platform or call centre
Don’t delete posts – you can ‘hide’ them if they are offensive, but never remove comments.
Escalation plan – in the event of a more major disaster, have an agreed route to escalate it to inform social media managers of the right people to reach out to for advice.
Assign responsibility – prevent mistakes by assigning one person to post updates and employ an approval process to check the content plan
Offer guidelines – recommended content and provide content where possible to control what is sent.
Monitor brand reputation – check that your customers are not discussing your brand without directly mentioning you;

Recommended resource: external agencies and consultants to help you draft these materials. We also use InTech and Cornerstone to distribute the materials.

8. No advertising strategy for a sponsored activity

Not all brands need social media advertising; budgets may stretch to sponsored posts for smaller businesses. If there is money in the pot, like any form of advertising, the investment can lead to more significant brand awareness growth (if done correctly). IT IS NOT CHEAP, though. I can’t stress that enough. The myth of having a calendar of cats going around the web for free is a unicorn.
Social media advertising offers great targeting and profiling opportunities for brands to reach a particular audience, including remarketing and ‘look-a-like’ segments. However, brands commonly set up advertising and let it run without tweaking and optimising creativity.
It’s important to remember that sponsored activity does not replace the effort you need to put into managing your social media profiles and that a poorly managed advertising strategy will also not contribute as efficiently.
Recommendation: Create a diversified, paid social media plan
Relevant to the most appropriate social networks being used devise a plan to manage goals, segments, creativity and spending.

What should you do?
Decide upon the right network for sponsored advertising – if budgets are small, try not to spread yourself too thin.
Likewise, be realistic about your budgets – ensure you get a good ROI for any spend and test for at least three months before locking your KPIs.
Decide your goals compared to your funnel – this may help you decide on a network. For example, are you looking for conversions or awareness? Both?
Don’t forget about ads – don’t let them go out of date, e.g. special offers, pricing changes, out-of-stock products etc. You also have to be mindful of formats, especially videos
Report on your creative – use insights to assess if the targeting and creatives are working and direct future ads
Recommended resource: Platforms themselves and media buy agencies. I always used a spreadsheet at the end of the day to map out my funnel in the future, but the help of a strong agency would bring accurate estimates

9. Each platform is treated the same

A common mistake many businesses make is treating each network the same and assuming that the users also behave similarly.
People usually actively engage with one or two social networks multiple times daily and use others less frequently. They pick their ‘favourite’ based on how comfortable they feel within the environment (the user experience), connections they have (friends or contacts), and the purpose for which they are using the network (socially or professionally).
Regarding how brands use social media, however, there tends to be a hierarchy of importance based on size and potential reach – particularly in B2C. Facebook tends to take the lion’s share of interest, which is hardly surprising given that it has 2.27 billion monthly users, but for some, it may not be their best opportunity.
Quite often, though, content is planned for Facebook and just ‘shared out to the other networks without much consideration of whether it is engaging to those audiences or if they are even there. The same could be said for B2B messages on LinkedIn that are broadcasted to more consumer-centric networks.
For example, you may have an actively engaged brand page in the UK, but in another country, perhaps Twitter has a better community to interact with. Age is also a factor in identifying which could be the most effective for your brand.

Recommendation: Plan social content relevant to the environment
As part of your content schedule and planner, create relevant posts for each network depending on the message, purpose and priority.

What should I do?
Never share blindly – craft posts independently so that no characters are lost, or links or images displayed incorrectly due to the limitations of each network
Identify your communities in their environments – look at what they are sharing or with whom they are interacting, and tap into that specifically rather than blankly pushing out a message intended for another audience. Remember that this info can be found in the listening part
Pick your social networks of priority according to your data and objectives – don’t just copy what another brand is doing out of fear

10. No integration with other channels

Once upon a time, it took a while for brands to realise where social media should sit as part of the marketing mix. At that point, it sat on the periphery of teams, and no one was sure how and by who it should be handled. These days, social media is more widely recognised as integral to marketing, customer service and corporate communications.
That said, many brands still fail to integrate social channels with other communications channels, paying little attention to the role it plays in the broader customer lifecycle marketing strategy.
Social media can also play a part in later phases, such as repeat purchase remarketing, community engagement post-sale, gaining feedback, and customer service.
Research has found that consumers believe that social media has increased the accountability of brands by 81%. This has led to almost half (46%) of people using a social media platform to complain about a brand. These complaints offer brands an excellent opportunity to provide customer service that could influence future purchases, especially as 35% of respondents said they would boycott a brand that ignored their complaints.
However, it is worth noting that 50% of consumers said they would boycott a brand if they received an unhelpful response, showing that how you engage with people on social media can have a more significant negative effect than ignoring them.

Recommendation: Consider social as part of the whole journey
While creating your social media strategy, think about how your platforms support other parts of the customer journey.

What should you do?
Ensure social media does not sit in isolation:
Consider the touchpoints that social media has on your customer’s interactive journey (from promotional content and presales questions to post-sales troubleshooting or advocacy)
Adapt your communications or contact strategy to integrate these into the full range of marketing communications channels to support prospects and customers on this journey
Social media is ever-changing. Be it new platforms like Tiktok, different consumption habits or varied forms of communication, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp always come up with innovative features or affordances that add different dimensions to the platforms. So stay ahead of the curve by testing yourself as a user and listening to your environment, and perhaps you’d be at the forefront of the biggest social media trends in 2020.

Haider Alleg
Haider Alleg
Entrepreneur Haider developed a toolbox for bringing brand performances to life, helping organisations of various shapes and sizes navigate the unknown and generate growth. This led him to build Kainjoo in 2012, a fast-growing consulting firm supporting ambitious leaders from top 500 Fortune companies. With Allegory Capital, he supports regulated industries to innovate through portfolios of emerging tech and channels.

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