Persuasion of Prescription: New study reveals surprising impact of social media on physician decisions

Social media has become a ubiquitous part of modern life, with billions of people around the world using online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to connect with others, share information, and consume content. A recent study sheds light on the growing influence and impact of social media on certain aspects of physician actions.

“Physicians are increasingly leveraging a variety of social media channels to meet different needs – both professionally and personally,” notes Erin Fitzgerald, Chief Marketing Officer at Sermo. “In response, pharma marketers are investing more in their social strategy, understanding these channels have vast potential to influence perception and behavior.”

Consuming this form of digital content can, at times, provide a wealth of information that can help us make more informed decisions. We need only look at the power of social media to impact everyday research on products and services, when we read customer reviews, look at the star rankings, as well as compare prices and features. Social media can also be a useful tool for staying up-to-date on news and current events.

New information, through a recent joint survey conducted by Sermo and LiveWorld, sheds light on the powerful influence social media has on the power to influence the prescription. And we are left to wonder if we should consider this positive and contributory—or negatively impacting our trust and health outcomes?

Done in two parts, this survey revealed that 57% frequently or occasionally change their view of a treatment or medication based on social media content. Only 16% of surveyed physicians report never having their perceptions altered through social media. Surprisingly, these same physicians reported that their change in perception often led to their prescription habits being modified—by 41% of respondents.

Naturally, pharma industry marketers are taking note of this trend and are increasingly investing in social media to influence the behavior of healthcare professionals (HCPs). Not surprisingly, this survey, which also targeted marketers in the pharmaceutical industry, found that 94% of respondents view social media as an important channel for HCPs.

As a result, social media is a top priority for pharma marketers when planning their 2023 budgets—and no one reported a decrease in expected social media spending. In fact, 90% of those surveyed included social media in their marketing plans for the coming year, with 50% anticipating an increase in budgets for social media aimed at HCPs. When it comes to HCP-related social media, pharma marketers firmly believe in the return on investment (ROI); a whopping 92% are fully confident that it influences clinical and treatment decisions.


57% of physicians surveyed stated that they frequently or occasionally alter their views based on content they see on social media, while only 16% reported never being influenced in this way.


The physician side of this relationship

Physicians are engaging with different social platforms to meet different needs. Doximity and Sermo, two closed or “walled garden” platforms are the most popular for providers, with nearly six out of 10 physicians using them, respectively. These communities are also impactful in changing physicians’ sentiment, with 41% of physicians reporting changing their thinking about medications as a result of seeing content on Sermo and 33% saying the same of Doximity. Physicians also trust the content in these closed communities more than that in public social platforms such as TikTok or Facebook.

The survey found that physicians use different social platforms to meet different needs. For instance, 52% of physicians engage within private medical groups on social platforms, with Facebook being their top choice. If physicians seek presentations from key opinion leaders or news with Congress, 35% go to LinkedIn. Twitter is the platform of choice for physicians to follow professional organizations and hospitals, as indicated by 62% of those surveyed.

Pharma marketers are also seeing heavy traction from strategies involving “provider influencers,” who nearly one in two physicians report following on platforms. Why? Because of content that is based on their credentials (27%), their knowledge about the topics shared (26%), and the relevance of their content to the physician’s specialty (26%). As a result, 56% of pharma marketers have provider-based influencers in their digital marketing plans.

According to Danny Flamberg, LiveWorld VP of HCP Strategy and survey author, “Social media is a serious and necessary factor in HCP marketing and promotion. Social media is being widely adopted, budgeted, and planned for in 2023. Marketers have faith in its reach, persuasiveness, peer-to-peer credibility, and immediacy.”

The survey was conducted in two parts. Part 1 was fielded in November 2022 to over 200 U.S-based physicians across a variety of specialties, while Part 2 was fielded in December 2022 to over 50 pharma marketers from pharmaceutical firms of various sizes, with titles ranging from Manager to VP/Director to CMO.

The results are clear—social media is becoming an increasingly important channel for physicians and pharma marketers alike. Physicians are strongly engaging with social media to stay up-to-date on clinical information and treatment options, and pharma marketers recognizing the value of influencer marketing and the ROI of social media.

And healthcare continues to shift its boundaries and alliances, the connection between provider organizations and the pharma industry is strenghtening. This complements an already growing symbiotic relationship between HCPs and pharma, for the strategy around sharing real-world data from the point of care with real-world insights from clinical trials.


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