Social Media Integral to Rx’s Newly Elevated Status

Headshot of Brian Owens

Pharmacists, pharmacy school interns and pharmacy technicians were on the front lines, testing for COVID-19, giving shots and educating the public because U.S. retailers remained open throughout the pandemic. COVID has expanded the pharmacist primary care responsibilities. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services gave pharmacists in many states, including Massachusetts, the ability to become certified to provide injections for vaccinations and long-acting antipsychotics without an appointment or a trip to the doctor’s office. These efforts elevated the public’s perception of pharmacists and provided a new opportunity for the pharmacy profession to redefine its role and value to U.S. citizens.

COVID and social media have elevated the retail pharmacist’s influence over health commerce. According to National Library of Medicine, one in three consumers in the U.S. consult social media for health-related matters. The rise of social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram has showcased how influencers can significantly impact the public’s views on health. This has particularly come true as it relates to vaccinations, as social media continues to have a powerful impact on consumers’ decisions around whether to get vaccinated or not against COVID-19. As pharmacy primary care responsibilities expand, the pharmacist’s role in recommending lower-cost over-the-counter health medications will accelerate. COVID and social media have accelerated the retailization of health care, which has accelerated the pharmacist’s influence over more health commerce moments.

Social media impact on pharmacy

In recent years, many CPG brands have adapted their advertising strategies to the rise in social media use. A recent report by eMarketer noted that consumer response is highest when messages are delivered from social media influencers compared to brand-owned channels; further, content from influencers is more effective at meeting communication goals. Today, influencer marketing is growing rapidly — tipped to become a $16.4 billion industry in 2022, up $15 billion from 2016. Social media influencers are often used by brands as an invaluable introduction to specific target audiences.

For example, TikTok has exploded over the past two years, as influencers have identified new ways to gain followers and expand their influence using the app’s short-video format. Among these influencers are a growing number of pharmacists and pharmacy students who are educating young viewers and advocating for the profession. A global example of how social media experiences are transforming pharmacy outcomes comes from Mustafa Dhahir, a Millennial pharmacist at a community pharmacy in South Western Sydney, Australia. To Mustafa’s 250,000 TikTok followers, he is ‘@pharmustafa,’ a myth-busting influencer combating medical misinformation in style.

Mustafa creates viral videos that demonstrate the role of the pharmacist

Checks, and other valuable services that show pharmacists do more than just ‘count pills’ or ‘stick a label on a box.’ He also produces COVID-related videos that aim to provide up-to-date information regarding guidelines and vaccine availability in pharmacies, as well as answering questions. His customer experience (CX) approach is to create simple informative videos to counsel patients in simple terms, so everyone can understand, including those with low health literacy.

Social media provides pharmacists with new platforms to provide extra one-on-one time with the public and to counsel them on health decisions, during the times that are convenient for both the pharmacist and the patient. Social media provides pharmacists with a unique awareness platform to voice their professional opinion and offer accurate health care advice to a large swath of people worldwide. Social media enables pharmacy patients with more consumer-centric access to high-stress clinical spaces. Social media enables the pharmacy patient’s testimony to inform future health buying decisions where new informational videos reviews provide new awareness to a brands’ outcome efficacy, ingredients, sustainability practices and other factors of value to the pharmacy shopper, such as a power brands health inequality commitment.

New pharmacist as influencer brand opportunities

Social media provides new open platforms for patients to express how they feel while connecting to a pharmacist during a pharmacy commerce experience. Today, 53% of U.S.-licensed pharmacists are doctors of pharmacy, who receive as much classroom clinical instruction as medical doctors. A Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll found that after a patient talks to their physician about a medicine they saw advertised, about 44% of the patients who were prescribed the medication, who requested the advertised medication, were ultimately prescribed this medication. The rise of health-related social media and the expansion of pharmacy primary care services has created a new opportunity to bring more brand engagement into more pharmacy commerce moments.

Recent Kantar Shopperscape data indicates that U.S. drug store shoppers are most likely to take advantage of the pharmacist consultations in the future and are likely to check promotions and deals before pharmacy shopping. Pharmacy drug store shopper social media penetration currently represents 18% of all drug shoppers, and the Kantar data indicates that U.S. drug store shoppers are most likely to see promotions in emails and on retailer websites and prefer those methods of finding promotions. As more social media experiences are created around pharmacy shopping, health brand social media promotions will be considered more on retailer websites/apps and will accelerate alternative over-the-counter health and wellness product consideration, connection and conversion. More health brands should consider embedding more social media QR code activations into more retailer TV and in-store display conversion pharmacy experiences.

The opportunities abound for pharmacists to become more of a health commerce trusted advisor, which gives more health brands permission to create new pharmacy commerce moments that matter.

Below are some pharmacy brand experience recommendations to consider as more social media and primary care responsibilities are incorporated into consumer health brand commerce experiences.

  • Primary care: O-T-C brands should consider creating brand health services in support of the expansion of pharmacy primary care responsibilities.
  • Specialty care: As patient therapies become more complex, pharmacotherapy expertise will be in great demand. More O-T-C brands should benchmark efficacy to this new technology in social media to contrast cost savings.
  • Digital health: More O-T-C brands should consider helping customers identify digital health tools for their consumer health needs. Use natural language and creative content to help the patient understand and interpret their personalized pharmacy data in a personal way.
  • Population health analytics: More O-T-C health brands should consider partnering with retail population health experts such as Higi to develop algorithms for population health analytics and design programs that improve pharmacy shopper population health.

- Brian Owens is SVP, Commerce Strategy at VMLY&R COMMERCE US

Originally published in Chain Drug Review