7 Steps of a Successful Social Strategy

Strategic social media can connect key people, start conversations with patients, build trust, and drive loyalty.



More businesses are setting out in social media, but International Social Media Speaker, Trainer and Consultant, Zoe Cairns, says many of them are making the mistake of misusing social media as mainly a broadcasting tool. Having worked with many companies, including Fortune 500 brands, she has observed how a number of them fail to cover one important factor: the social media strategy.

A strategy is necessary to get the maximum benefits and performance from each social media activity. Speaking at the July 2015 Big Social Media Conference, held in Manchester, Cairns shared her 7 Steps to a Successful Social Media Strategy. She also expounded on what a social media strategy is, how it is similar to a networking event, and what its implications are on customer loyalty, which is a major asset for social media in pharma.

A social media strategy as a business plan

Cairns explains how a social media strategy is very much like a business plan, wherein it serves as a tool to facilitate a business in reaching its digital goals. Enter Step 1 of Cairns successful social media strategy.

Step 1: Define goals and objectives

According to Cairns, possible social media goals could include increasing presence, awareness and social media reach, building an online community, boosting website traffic, establishing thought leadership, or becoming a key centre of influence.

Social media goals depend on what the company needs and where it currently stands as a business. “We know of a pharmaceutical company who is using a loyalty system to boost customer lifetime value, get more feedback on their products and boost referrals to their products,” says Antavo’s Head of Sales, Andy Nemes, an expert in building and maintaining customer loyalty. Goals can be dependent on the company, but Cairns suggests setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART).

Step 2: Define your target market

Whether a pharma company is B2B or B2C, defining the social media target market dictates which platforms are best suited for them. “Do your research, and more research! Look at the four main social media sites - Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn,” suggests Cairns. She adds that it can also be useful for companies to take a look at platforms where their competitors are present and engaging.

Social media as a networking event

Social media isn’t a place of solitude for brands, but is the digital equivalent of networking events where pharma companies can have a look at their organization’s external environment. This leads on to Cairns Step 3 of Cairns successful social media strategy.

Step 3: Connect with key centres of influence

Cairns suggests using social media to look for key individuals and influencers within the pharma industry, specifically those who address the needs and concerns of the company’s target market. Key influencers can be anyone with knowledge, expertise, experience and credibility that patients gravitate towards. “Make a list of influencers who are relevant to your business. Subscribe to blogs and set up your RSS Feed,” suggests Cairns.

Step 4: Keep an eye on competitors

Other than searching competitors to spot where the target market is congregating, social media can (and should) also be used to inspect what the competition is up to. Cairns encourages companies to ask questions, such as “What response are they competitors getting from the target audience? What do you like and dislike about their activities? What could you mirror of the bigger brands?”

Social media as a way of listening and building trust

Beyond being a networking hub for pharma, the most important role social media plays is being a useful tool for listening to, and building trust with, patients. Building trust among target audience members can drive customer loyalty. According to Nemes, “I personally think the pharmaceutical companies’ main focus should be to develop and maintain trust with their customers. It's an industry where trust is one of the most important assets a company can have.”

Setting up a website and sharing information through social media platforms can still run the risk of limiting social media as a broadcasting tool. In order for social media strategies to be successful, they must establish two-way communication and provide patients with information they want and need. This links in to Cairns next two steps of a social media strategy.

Step 5: Content and campaign

This step entails strategically choosing the kind of content, its website presentation and template, and how it should be shared through social media. “Pharma companies should focus on doing outstanding customer care on social media,” says Nemes, explaining how building trust and driving loyalty in pharma can be unique.

In order for pharma companies to build trust, truly listen, and provide patient care, they must mix up their content and campaign composition. Cairns suggests four main components for a successful content strategy:

  • Articles– e.g. blog posts, medical publications and journals, the latest news, etc.
  • Tips– e.g. simple and practical information, which can be presented as top 10 lists, quotes or infographics.
  • Promotion– e.g. sponsored content and information about products, services, events and offers.
  • Conversation– e.g. Twitter Chats, identifying trending and general topics on patient forums, etc.

Step 6: Join conversations and engage

This step expands on the ‘conversation’ component of Step 5. “After you have done your research, post comments, tweet out, join groups on LinkedIn, send out your videos, and start engaging with influencers within your industry online,” advises Cairns. One tool that can be used to provide video content that is sharable in various social media platforms is Jing. It can capture a person’s screen as an image or a short video, which can then be published as a free expert tutorial or patient testimonial.

Step 6 is about pharma companies encouraging patients to take part in the conversation and information sharing. Social media can be used to make word-of-mouth more accessible to patients.“Pharma companies should include more user-generated content on their websites, like posting product reviews, personal stories and Q&A’s where customers can comment on other customer's questions,” suggests Nemes. “This will boost content and increase trust in the company.”

Nemes believes that social media can be an ideal place for patients to share their stories and learn from each other. In the process, pharma organizations can also pick up business insights from patient conversations and comments.

Don’t forget to monitor and measure

Cairns final step is so important she believes that if you aren’t doing it, then you have no place on social media.

Step 7: Monitor and measure

In order for pharma companies to determine how close or far they are from their social media goals, tools must be put in place to monitor their social media performance and effectiveness. “Measure your monthly success and make sure it’s consistent with your business goals and objectives,” suggests Cairns. She also recommends using analytics tools to assist with monitoring and measuring, including Sprout Social, which is a management tool for identifying and growing social media presence.

Another analytics tool is Tweriod, which identifies the best times to release and update tweets. Social Mention can also be useful as it summarizes data on what people are saying online about a specific brand or business by scouting through social media sites, blogs, searches, bookmarks, and comments. Cairns adds that it is important to keep a monthly record of social media results and have an action plan in case the current strategy is veering away from the stated goals.

According to Cairns, “Social media strategies vary for every business and industry.” For pharma, it is critical to connect with key influencers, provide content that is valuable to patients, and provide a platform where they can share stories with each other. At the same time, the strategy needs to allow the company to extract patient insights that might help identify patient needs or areas for company improvement.

It is important to note, however, that simply setting up accounts in different social media platforms isn’t enough. Cairns emphasizes that a successful online presence isn’t measured by the quantity of social media platforms used, but by the quality of the strategy for using such a platform. “Think strategy, not tactic. Without a social media plan, you will become overwhelmed and your efforts will fail,” she warns.

A good strategy begins with smart and iterative goals that can be measured and adjusted if necessary. A successful strategy makes appropriate use of social media platforms by networking with influencers, checking on competitor activities and engagements, and conversing with customers in order to build leadership, loyalty and trust.


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