The ongoing global pandemic has been a whirlwind to say the least. Many companies want to understand the implications of COVID-19 as our day-to-day lives are being upended around the globe: How do we keep our people and customers safe? How do we enable tools and technologies to digitally connect our workforce?

 

Pharmaceutical companies have some specific considerations to ponder. As this crisis continues to unfold, is conducting primary market research with frontline healthcare workers the right thing to do? How do we balance connecting with our key customers, such as healthcare providers, for valuable insights while being cognizant of the extra burden on the healthcare system? What will the downstream implications be on treatment rates and types of medicines prescribed? How might we identify ways to better understand patient concerns (for example, HCP office visits) and provide additional value to alleviate some of them?

 

Many traditional insight methodologies have rapidly responded to these new challenges. By turning to agile, asynchronous research solutions that combine both qualitative and quantitative approaches, these methodologies are still (mostly) proceeding as before. While more traditional methodologies such as primary market research have to be employed in a careful way, there’s also a heightened interest in enabling robust insight generation in a real-time, non-intrusive manner to be able to respond quickly to changes in this new global environment.

Especially right now, with limited activity out of the home, people are reportedly reading, contributing and influencing more than ever. In fact, according to FiercePharma, COVID-19 discussions around disease states have increased 1,000% among HCPs. This indicates that it could be a good time to conduct social media analytics and understand unsolicited opinions from key stakeholders.

 

Social media analytics—tracking online conversations around specific themes, phrases, words or brands and using that data to better understand customer beliefs and behaviors—can be quite robust. Together with natural language processing, social media analytics can train algorithms to structure data and then use AI-enabled approaches to recognize patterns, detect anomalies, or support additional analyses or deep dives. Through an approach that combines the many recent advances in natural language processing with manual human review, this augmented intelligence supports compliant adverse event reporting and derives meaningful, actionable insights.

Social media analytics can be used to support a variety of business objectives across the product life cycle, including but not limited to:

  • Development/pre-launch: By identifying and tracking key online influencers, social media analytics can identify unmet needs, hone in on chatter about competitor activity and monitor changes in engagement channels. According to Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, this “continuous iterative clinical knowledge—the kind that can be updated minute by minute—is invaluable when time is of the essence and there’s scant research to fall back on.” While the approvals of different treatment approaches are still subject to sound clinical design, tracking these anecdotes can provide the groundwork for future clinical studies.
  • Pre-launch/launch: By tracking stakeholder experiences and perceptions about existing and potential treatments, social media analytics can build patient journeys and assess potential launch impact. These types of analyses can identify leakage and leverage points along a patient journey, such as which stakeholder is most involved in the decision-making stage or which barrier is most limiting for patients. These types of insights can directly translate to action, such as creating specific online campaigns to directly address patients’ concerns.
  • Maturity: Regularly monitoring certain keywords across social media channels can help companies pick up on regulatory alerts, potential supply issues, and any compliance, adherence or safety concerns. Recently, we helped one client use social media analytics to uncover physician sentiments and perceptions of treating COVID-19. This analysis was designed to identify ways that pharmaceutical companies can better support physicians on the frontlines with the information that they need. By utilizing natural language processing techniques, the company was able to distill over 65,000 social media posts into short summaries of the relevant topics, and connect the appropriate sentiments to each topic very quickly. Coupled with input from internal experts, this analysis culminated in solution-oriented insights to guide decisions around physician engagement and manufacturer support. 
  • Event tracking: Similarly, by monitoring key clinical and non-clinical topics via keywords, social media analytics can pick up on the volume of posts to discern key topics of interest for stakeholders. Specifically, with many pharmaceutical conferences going virtual and the anticipated impact COVID-19 will have on every brand, social media analytics can be used to understand who to engage with and in what ways to address the expected impact.

As we continue to find ways to adapt to this new normal, it just so happens that this new normal can shed an important light on how social media can be a powerful resource for medical discourse and insights.