Med-Legal is not social media’s enemy, according to a report by PR firm Weber Shandwick, which questioned 12 high-level pharma execs about their social-media mindset at the end of 2012, and released the results this month.

In addition to upending the expected scapegoat, recalcitrant regulatory employees, the PR firm said pharma execs told the agency that the main things keeping them from being more social are staff and teamwork issues. These challenges include basic ones — such as lacking internal social media expertise — as well as cultural ones, such as an inability or unwillingness among divisions to understand the platform and embrace its potential.

Inconsistent ways to measure return on investment were also included, but the execs told researchers they were working on being flexible regarding what constitutes a result, such as pre-post surveys to see how social-media outreach affects brand perception, or using it to identify influencers — such as who is tweeting and being retweeted, among other measures.

What is not high on this list of social-media pain points: adverse events, which researchers said account for less than half of a percent of social-media mentions. They wrote that the knot here is “researching anonymous AEs…” and showing regulators that a good effort has been made to find the posters and address the purported issues.

Weber Shandwick’s researchers noted that these findings indicate a major shift in how the pharma industry views social media, including the recognition that “listening to patient communications is a powerful benefit of being social,” and that while avoiding social media was once considered “safe,” this truth no longer holds, because “ensuing inaction often results in brand invisibility which consumers find suspect.”

Researchers also keyed in on what have become familiar talking points among companies whose execs have discussed successful social launches, which is that being on social media means being there for the audience, not for the brand, and noted how one company began making cancer coping videos after listening in on advocacy communities and learning how advanced cancer patients feel ignored. At the same time, Weber Shandwick’s researchers noted that the social mixing works both ways, and another exec said his company finally understood why many patients were not sticking with their medication regimens after being immersed in their communities, and then launched an educational campaign to try to address it.

Another point of note: high-level buy-in is critical, a point Pfizer made months ago when it discussed how it managed to launch 10 mobile-optimized websites in a short time frame.