Taking Off Online

By April Onufrak |

How community pharmacies can get started with social media.

Many independent pharmacy owners recognize that building a social media presence can have a meaningful impact on their business, but are intimidated at the thought of getting started. With so many social media channels — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and more — where should a pharmacy start?

A little guidance will help pharmacies build — or improve — a social media strategy that effectively communicates with current patients while reaching new ones. And once started, pharmacies will find it’s not as hard as it looks.

Social Media 101
Since 2004, when Facebook first appeared, social media has exploded in popularity. According to a 2016 Pew Research survey, nearly eight-in-10 online American adults use Facebook alone, and nearly one-third use Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.1 The prevalence of social media engagement creates a tremendous opportunity for businesses, and pharmacies in particular. An active social presence creates new ways for patients to find pharmacies and pharmacies to find patients all while building brand loyalty and strengthening patient relationships.

Social media offers clear opportunities to reach a vast audience of current and potential patients. But doesn’t traditional media — radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, even direct mail — offer the same opportunities?

Sure, but there are two major differences between traditional and social media:

  1. Cost: Running an advertisement on television or in a mass circulation newspaper can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each time an advertisement appears. By contrast, pharmacies can set up a business page on Facebook, create a Twitter account or start posting photos and videos on Instagram without paying a penny.
  2. Communication and engagement: Traditional media essentially offers a megaphone. Pharmacies can use television commercials or run newspaper ads to speak to the audience. Tweeting on Twitter or posting an update on Facebook involves communicating with patients. That creates a whole different dynamic. Patients can respond to social media posts, which leads to conversation and can ultimately create deeper loyalty and engagement.

Defining a Social Media Strategy
Having explained why social media is important and useful, the next step is to figure out how community pharmacies can use social media to provide maximum benefits for their business and their patients.

Social media is a tool, and pharmacies must decide which objectives they want to accomplish using this tool. For instance, pharmacies can:

  • Use social media to build and strengthen relationships with patients by engaging them in conversation and answering their questions.
  • Search social media for hashtags (e.g., #HighBloodPressure) to see what topics are trending. The results of these searches can pinpoint major concerns or interests by patients, which pharmacists can use to guide business decisions or product inventory.
  • Publicize promotions over social media, driving traffic to a physical location or an e-commerce enabled website.
  • Become a resource for health information. When patients go online to seek health content — for example, how to cure a headache — they can find answers from a pharmacy’s social media accounts. When pharmacists make their business more visible online, patients will identify their brand as a main source for health knowledge.
  • Help and encourage patients to live healthier lives and drive better outcomes. Good Neighbor Pharmacy recently participated in a study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the West Virginia Division of Tobacco Prevention that proved one-on-one counseling and educational guidance could play a vital role alongside pharmaceutical interventions in helping patients quit smoking tobacco products. By using social media to promote smoking cessation services, independent pharmacies could differentiate themselves from competitors and add value for patients. 

Let’s Get Social!
Once a pharmacy has defined some social media goals, it’s time to start communicating via social media. Here are five tips to help community pharmacies get the most out of their social media accounts:

  1. Choose quality over quantity: There are dozens of social media channels to choose from, but they are not all equal. Pharmacists should start by prioritizing the channels where they are likely to have the greatest impact. In most cases, it probably makes sense to start with Facebook, which spans a wide breadth of users. For example, young adults in the millennial generation were the first and still avid Facebook users, but usage is also growing fast among baby boomers. For independent pharmacists who already have personal Facebook accounts, creating a business profile is a manageable next step.

  2. Deepen engagement: Whether pharmacists are focused on Facebook or communicating over multiple social media channels, they should try to seize every opportunity to build patient loyalty by responding to comments and questions. Services like Hootsuite make it easy to monitor interactions and respond to comments and questions across a variety of social media accounts.  

  3. Stay active: Lots of business owners across all industries get excited about launching a social media account but then lose interest when it comes to sustaining their social media presence. That’s a mistake. Pharmacists don’t need to post or tweet multiple times a day, but it sends the wrong message if patients come across a Facebook business page that hasn’t been updated in months.  

  4. Branch out into advertising: Once a community pharmacy has established a solid social media presence, the pharmacist may want to consider making some modest advertising purchases, where your dollar can go a long way.

    Right now, social media offers the lowest cost per 1,000 impressions in history. It is possible to deploy advertising on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using sophisticated targeting methods for as little as $0.25 per 1,000 impressions — about 1 percent of the cost of TV advertising.2

    Social media advertising also tends to be a low commitment medium. For instance, Facebook’s daily ad budgets can be as low as $1 per day. Facebook provides built-in analytics to monitor advertising performance. Or if a pharmacy seeks to drive website traffic, there are tools like Google Analytics, in addition to Facebook analytics, that make it easy to track the success of an ad campaign. Daily ad spending can be adjusted up or down to reach larger audiences with successful campaigns or save money on advertising that doesn’t seem as effective.

  5. Measure success: As with any business activity, it’s important to measure the results of social media outreach. Fortunately, there are helpful low-cost — and even free — tools that make it easy for community pharmacists to track and analyze their performance on social media. For example, they can use free services such as Hootsuite, Facebook Analytics and Google Analytics. Pharmacists who use social media to drive traffic to their pharmacy website can sign up with Quill Engage to get weekly site analytics measuring website traffic and referral sources.  

    One of the great things about social media is that it’s a low-cost communication channel. If pharmacists find that a particular message or topic is generating a lot of interest or driving a lot of website traffic, they can focus their attention in that area. If an idea does not generate excitement, it’s easy to move on and try something new. Independent pharmacists should not be afraid to experiment a little to find what works best for their business and which content resonates most with their patients.

    Once pharmacists see which posts are most popular, it might be time to branch out into other social media channels. For example, if newsy posts generate the most interest, the pharmacy could expand onto Twitter. If another pharmacy’s followers and fans seem more interested in lifestyle content, posting content on Instagram could be the next logical step.

Social media is a necessity for any small business, including independent pharmacies. Patients are on social media, and they expect all sorts of businesses — including their community pharmacy — to be there too.

With a bit of planning and the right tools, independent pharmacists can easily develop a strong social media presence that has the potential to yield great benefits with minimal investment.

To learn more about marketing and advertising strategies for independent pharmacies, including resources for optimizing social media, visit us at WeAreGNP.com.

1. Greenwood, S., Perrin, A., Duggan, M., (October 8, 2015). Social Media Update 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2017, from Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/ 

2. Hill , C. (2016, January 20). What $5 Will Get You in Social Media Ads. Retrieved April 3, 2017, from https://creativeresources.threadless.com/what-5-will-get-you-in-social-media-ads


About the Author

April Onufrak

Specialist, Digital and Web Media 
Good Neighbor Pharmacy
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