Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Facebook page saw a huge uptick in followers in March and April 2020, as more and more people flocked to social media pages to get their news about the pandemic.

It turns out that boost in followers and social media usage also occurred across the board among pharmaceutical brands in 2020. It was a year that created a paradigm shift in how healthcare brands communicate through these platforms, according to a new report out of social media marketing partner Socialbakers.

The report tracked how biopharma and health tech brands used social media during the pandemic — and how it might impact healthcare communications in the future. Here are the five main takeaways from the findings.

2020 was a ‘catalyst’ for increased investment in social media

One of the main drivers for the increase in social media among biopharma brands was the high engagement around vaccine development news, which garnered a large amount of public interest. Once brands saw this avenue could generate a lot of interest and engagement, it encouraged them to invest more money and effort into tailoring stronger social media campaigns.

“Looking at the results, it’s clear it’s an absolutely unprecedented year,” said Chushi Li, a content marketing specialist at Socialbakers who worked on the report. “The jist of it is that you can view this year as a catalyst for increased investment on the end of biopharma brands and their social media and efforts to communicate with the public.”

Negative sentiment dropped by 10% for biopharma brands

Previous data has shown that the once-negative reputation of the pharma industry switched to a more positive one in 2020, as more people began perceiving the industry as “problem solvers” during the COVID-19 crisis.

This latest report echoes that data, finding that social media comments on biopharma pages expressing negative sentiment dropped by 10% in 2020 in comparison to 2019.

Higher quality social media content

Li notes that along with the improved reputation among brands, as well as increased funding and investment in social media, the content overall proved to be of higher quality than in prior years.

“There were some really high-effort social media campaigns and content strategies that, when compared to the top posts of 2019 and 2018, the difference is really, really noticeable,” Li said. “Before you’d see kind of an automated sharing of news articles – now you’re seeing really thoughtful and more high-effort content being posted to their pages.”

The spotlight has been on Twitter and Facebook

Twitter and Facebook held the lead for social media platforms that saw massive growth in usage from biopharma brands in 2020 – whether it was from increased posting or engagement.

Posting and interactions on Facebook doubled for biopharma in 2020 compared to 2019, the report found. Pfizer tallied the highest number of total interactions on its Facebook page, followed by GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Bristol Myers Squibb.

Meanwhile, total interactions on Twitter for biopharma brands rose by 255% in 2020 compared to previous years – jumping from 233,000 total interactions in 2019 to 827,000 in 2020. Growth in followers on biopharma Twitter pages was also remarkable, with the average page gaining more than 30,000 followers in 2020 compared to just 9,500 followers in 2019.

The report also compared the three top performing tweets in 2020 to 2019. As to be expected, the three top tweets in 2020 were related to the COVID-19 vaccine – and had interactions 20 times the amount of those in 2019.

The results of the report have implications for how biopharma brands will use social media in the future to improve communication with consumers. Interestingly, even brands that had nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccine development or testing saw significant growth when it came to social media.

That’s because biopharma brands in general began “putting more effort into connecting into the general population, being more human, improving their brand and the perception of their brand,” Li said. Brands not associated with vaccines still invested more money into social media last year, and the metrics show that paid off, with the percentage of promoted posts even for smaller companies leading to their rapid growth.

“Once [brands] saw the results they can get in terms of reach and engagement, it started a snowball effect,” Li said.