Experts say pharma's move to Snapchat is in the making

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The growth among slightly older audiences, especially women older than 35, could prompt pharma and healthcare marketers to take a closer look at Snapchat.

If the most adventurous marketers had their way, pharma would have made its presence felt on social media years before it did. Alas, their more skeptical MLR peers preached caution, and it wasn't until a year or two ago that most brand teams were comfortable promoting products and running unbranded awareness campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like.

However, Snapchat has largely been excluded from pharma's social media charge, for reasons rational and otherwise. As we head into the final quarter of 2017, there's reason to believe this is about to change.

See also: Gilead to use dating sites, Tumblr, and Snapchat in Truvada strategy

For the uninitiated — and judging by anecdotal evidence, more pharma execs match that description than you'd expect — Snapchat's appeal owes everything to the ephemeral nature of its content. Like other platforms, Snapchat lets users share photos or short videos, dubbed “snaps,” with friends — or, in the case of pharma brands, patients, caregivers, physicians, conference attendees, and any number of others. But what distinguishes it from other social media channels could be behind the reluctance of pharma brands to push forward more aggressively with Snapchat-centric initiatives.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect to marketers and target audiences unfamiliar with Snapchat is that users don't create traditional profiles or pages. Similarly, there is no stream for friends or followers to scroll through. When users post a snap, they can choose how long it will be visible — anywhere between one and 10 seconds; it will disappear entirely after 24 hours. In other words, Snapchat content is temporary by design, unlike the great majority of content created by pharma and healthcare marketers.

See also: Drugmakers test out Tumblr, to tap specific audiences

Another difference between more well-known platforms and Snapchat is the absence of hashtags. Users can scroll through top stories in categories including music, sports, and fashion, but they can't search for a specific hashtag. This, according to pharma and healthcare Snapchat skeptics, has something of a disorienting effect.

AGE-OLD QUESTION

In January, healthcare-centric digital marketing firm Omnicore reported there are more than 300 million monthly active users on Snapchat, with 100 million checking in on a daily basis. But the main reason pharma marketers have largely ignored Snapchat might be related to the demographics of its user base. While the platform is growing, it remains unclear if patients, physicians, and others that pharma seeks to reach are sold on the platform.

The Snapchat user base is quite young: Per parent company Snap's IPO filing in February, 71% of users are younger than 34, and 45% are between the ages of 18 and 24. However, according to research firm MoffettNathanson, the fastest-growing group of users is the over-35 set. In Q4 2016, 33 million people older than 35 used Snapchat, versus a mere 10 million in the same period in 2015.

See also: Gilead slowly rolls out ads for Truvada for PrEP — 4 years after approval

This growth among slightly older audiences, especially women older than 35, could prompt pharma and healthcare marketers to take a closer look at Snapchat. It's also worth noting the continued embrace from millennials — who, despite stereotypes, aren't children anymore.

As Klick Health's senior director of social media Brad Einarsen points out, many millennials are becoming parents themselves. “After you have a child, health becomes very important. And as you get older, health takes on a bigger profile,” he notes. He adds that as millennials age, their wants and needs will increasingly overlap with pharma's marketing priorities.

Much of the movement to date has been seen in and around industry events. For instance, at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the winners of an undergraduate poster contest were interviewed and the videos were posted as snaps. “The winners were already using Snapchat and knew what to do,” says Rick Buck, senior director of communications and PR for AACR. He notes the format forced the students to tell their stories succinctly, but in a way that was low-pressure.

See also: How can drugmakers tell better stories? Try Instagram

Right now, very few pharma or healthcare brands are active on Snapchat. But Julie Aliaga, director of social media at CMI/Compas, says that doesn't mean there is no interest. “It is being leveraged from a conference standpoint,” she explains, offering the example of Snapchat use at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in June.

One of Snapchat's unique features is the ease of setting up geofilters, which are special filters that coordinate with the user's location. At ASCO, Aliaga says, vendors created geofilters at their booths, allowing visitors to snap themselves and “really get folks excited and engaged to attend the conference.”

However, outside of the industry-klatch environment, evidence of brands using Snapchat is scant. Among the few acknowledged adopters is Gilead Sciences, which has promoted Truvada (for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis) on the platform.

See also: 10 things for pharma marketers to know about Facebook and Instagram

Of course, given that Snapchat users are not required to create a profile or page, there could be more stealth campaigns, Einarsen notes. “If a marketer is using it, you won't know unless you are part of the targeted market,” he explains. “If I put up a post, my friends and followers can see that, then it goes away. It's different from other platforms that have more permanence.”

Einarsen believes pharma and healthcare brands may be in the midst of developing Snapchat campaigns, a process that can take three to six months. Aliaga agrees, noting “people are excited to get out there. I think the next year is only going to continue to show it more.”

PROS AND CONS

There are several compelling reasons for the industry to consider Snapchat, from the aforementioned shifting demographics to the directness and intimacy of the platform itself — and that's before one takes into account the possible prestige and credibility boost that comes with being one of the first in the pool, so to speak. And while there are potential pitfalls, none seem insurmountable.

The internal ones may prove the trickiest. For a marketing team considering a Snapchat campaign, Einarsen suggests involving the regulatory department as early as possible. Doing so will allow those tasked with protecting the brand to do their jobs effectively and drastically increase the chances the campaign will be approved.

See also: Using humor: Why pharma doesn't need to fear social media

It goes without saying that brands hoping to up their Snapchat presence should be motivated by impulses more profound than “well, lots of people are using it.” Which is to say: strategy shouldn't be an afterthought. “We like to partner with clients to figure out why they are using a platform,” Aliaga notes. “We ask, ‘What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish?' We think about the strategy.”

Another potential benefit for healthcare and pharma teams is the available screen real estate on Snapchat — quite useful for marketers that have a lot of information to convey. As opposed to Twitter, there are no character limits. Because Snapchat is designed for and only accessible on mobile platforms, it is critical all content be optimized for mobile devices.

See also: 8 ways for pharma to improve the way it uses Twitter

Finally, there's the Snapchat voice and tone, which Einarsen likens to “hanging out with your friends and chatting.” Twitter, on the other hand, is “more about learning things.” If they hope to craft messages that will resonate, brands must master the platform's default tone. “Humor and very, very quick hits” are the key, explains Einarsen.

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