Written by: Paula Gallagher, totalhealth Pharmacy Group, Business Development Manager and Naomi O’Farrell, Marketing and Communications Manager, totalhealth Pharmacy Group
Having learned much through supporting over 80 independent member pharmacies with social media planning, Paula Gallagher and Naomi O’Farrell from the central totalhealth support team give us some insight into how independent pharmacies can make the most of social media to engage with their communities.
Do you know your DMs from your PMs? Could you give someone your ‘handle’ from memory? Do you believe a Twitter Egg is all about Easter?
There are 3.79 million active social media users in Ireland, accessing their accounts at least once a month (Hootsuite, 2021), so it is safe to assume that a significant percentage of your current and potential customers and patients have social media presence, and that they expect you to have presence, too. This represents a potentially powerful and efficient means of engaging with your target audience; in fact, social media was ranked as the number one means for brands to connect with their customers in a 2018 U.S. survey (SproutSocial, 2018). However, it is not as simple as setting up social media accounts for your pharmacy and sharing special offers; you should have a clear plan for your activity across the most appropriate platforms and tailor that activity to suit your brand and, more importantly, your audience. All the while remembering the obligation to be professional, ethical, and compliant with industry regulations and standards, including the PSI Guidance for Pharmacists on the use of Digital and Social Media.
The approach taken by totalhealth to social media marketing is centred on each member pharmacy retaining their own personality; we support our members with calendars, planning, content, tools and guidance on social media usage, but local teams have the freedom to tailor the messaging to their audience. You can maximise the impact of social media for your community pharmacy by using a similar approach when planning your strategy. Your audience will not engage in generic content that is clearly not designed for them or for you. It is important that community pharmacies avoid competing with big brands and chains by mirroring approaches aimed at a very different audience; the banter between two national airlines on Twitter might be funny and engaging for their target customer but that probably wouldn’t work in our sector! The key is to carefully tailor your social media content so that it reflects your brand and meets your followers’ expectations. Let’s take a look at some of the areas you should focus on when planning a social media strategy for your pharmacy.
What should be your objectives for social media marketing? Social media presence has various potential advantages for your brand and your business, which should inform your goals when designing a strategy:
• Increase awareness of your business and the services you provide
• Promote your personality and brand values
• Staying current, keeping up-to-date with relevant trends and competitor activity
• A means for your customers to contact you, ask questions or provide feedback
• A platform to thank your customers and showcase your team
• Attracting new patients and customers
• Driving traffic to your website or other social media accounts
• Connecting better with your current customers and patients, and learning more about what they want and expect from you
• Offering reliable and useful advice and information to your followers
• Promotion of events or offers that will interest and benefit your followers.
These benefits will only be brought about with a carefully-planned strategy, designed with your desired outcomes in mind.
Your Values and Personality
What do you want people to associate with your brand? Your social media personality should reflect your pharmacy’s values and approach, and both should be apparent throughout any social media content or activity. This sets the tone for your approach and lets your followers know what they can expect from a visit to your pharmacy. Think about what aspects of your pharmacy are most important to promote and how best to do that through your content. Authenticity is one of the most important things to consumers when connecting with a brand (Ballantyne, Warren, and Nobbs 2006), so consider this when developing your social media personality. Make sure that your profile imagery and descriptions are accurate, appropriate and informative. If multiple team members are involved in social media management, they should all follow the same approach in terms of tone, language and standard of content.
What social media platforms should you be active on?
The top 5 social media platforms in Ireland are (Hootsuite, 2021):
Following closely behind those 5 are TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest. However, when considering what platforms you should have presence on, think about what users typically expect from these platforms and whether they are appropriate for your business. Have your current and target customers and patients in mind while you assess which platform will work best for you. You also need to think about whether you can suitably tailor your content to match each platform, as they each require very different types of content. One of the biggest mistakes to
make is to have a social media account for your business that is out-of-date, inactive, or irrelevant to the platform. It is better to be selective about what platforms you use rather than simply re-post links to content across many platforms. Pay close attention to the reception of your content and try to understand the dynamics of your followers so you can adapt your content to match. Whatever platform you use, make sure you use a business profile and not your personal account.
What do your followers want to see from you?
Social media is just that – social. So successful strategies on any platform will involve active engagement with your followers. When considering social media as part of the marketing strategy for your independent pharmacy, it is important to think about what social media users expect from the brands and companies they follow. The most common reason for using social media is to stay up-to-date with news and current events (Hootsuite, 2021). Covid-19 provided a clear example of how this was of particular relevance to healthcare providers. totalhealth has focused on disseminating public health information on social media in an accessible way, as well as communicating changes in business operations and what customers should expect when they visit the pharmacy. The engagement with these posts was the highest we have seen, reaching over 50% in some cases – the standard engagement level for posts is less than 1% (Hootsuite, 2021). Researching products to buy is the 6th reason for social media use, behind finding funny or entertaining content, filing up spare time, staying in touch with friends, and sharing photos and videos. So, although users are interested in products, it’s important to remember that this is no way the main reason people will choose to follow you. Followers will welcome information and advice that will make a difference to them, as well as getting to know the people behind your brand. Remember the value of authenticity – tell the story of you and your team.
What should your social media activity look like?
Engagement with the content you post will differ across social media platforms; in general, photo-based content attracts a higher engagement level, where as video-content is more likely to be shared. The best approach is to ensure you offer your followers a variety of content in different forms, using photo, video, and infographics to convey your messages. Some best practices for activity include:
• Make sure your content is appropriate for the platform and also for your pharmacy image
• Keep your content relevant to your audience – monitor the level of engagement you experience and adapt your approach as necessary
• Vary your content – avoid focusing only on sales or product-focused content; aim for a mix of product, information, advice, fun, team focus, competitions and links
• Stay on top of trends and current events; a good example is the recent ‘Jerusalema’ craze, which totalhealth members got involved in with huge interaction from social media followers
• Try to stand out from your competitors, not just mirror their approach
• Keep your tone casual, light hearted and fun, without sacrificing professionalism
• Do not over-post – you will lose followers by clogging up their feeds with information they do not find engaging
• Make sure your content is accurate and up-to-date, especially when sharing health information
• Quality is important, particularly when using images or video – if you are creating content yourself, take some time to develop the necessary skills to ensure it reaches a suitable standard. Content that is unique to you is always preferable to sharing the content created elsewhere, such as branded infographics or videos of your team, but only if of a high enough quality
• Take care with spelling and grammar, and avoid digital faux pas, such as writing in all capitals or over-use of hashtags
• Carefully review your content for appropriateness and sensitivity, considering any potential implications or interpretations of your message – aim at all times for equality, inclusivity and diversity.
Don’t forget about your content once it’s posted; ensure you monitor your posts for ongoing reactions, aiming to further enhance connections by engaging with your audience. You can achieve this by:
• Starting and participating in conversations
• Asking and answering questions
• Commenting on posts and responding to comments
• Sharing content generated by your followers, your suppliers, businesses in your local community or other connected organisations
• Addressing any complaints or criticism
• Showing your followers and your customers that you appreciate them.
Managing your Social Media activity
All these considerations may seem daunting, particularly when you have to tailor your content for each platform. But you can be clever about adapting your content so it is relevant across platforms. For example, sharing an information graphic on Facebook will benefit from an introductory post as well as the graphic, perhaps with a link to further information. If your graphic is of high enough quality, you can share it on Instagram. And for Twitter, simply adapt your post to match the snappier Twitter style. Whatever you do, avoid simply re-posting across all platforms as it can be interpreted as being lazy. Ways to help manage your social media strategy include:
• Create a promotional calendar for your marketing efforts, bearing in mind seasonal trends and significant events
• Prepare and schedule your posts in advance – this ensures you can proof them and plan a suitable timeframe to allow for variety on your social media pages
• Consider the use of a social media online software, such as Hootsuite, which will allow you to manage all of your accounts from one place
• Make sure you have the appropriate resources to manage your social media activity – you might consider delegating management to someone with a better skill set or more time.
Your followers should feel comfortable about sharing complaints or criticism on social media – in fact, such feedback should be welcomed and seen as an opportunity to improve. Make sure to deal appropriately with any negative feedback but avoid engaging with ‘trolling’ behaviour – social media users who make extreme or offensive comments just to get a rise from others. You should delete such comments immediately and report the user. If ignored, you risk causing offence to your genuine followers and jeopardising the integrity of your pharmacy’s image.
Measures of Success
The totalhealth Pharmacy Facebook page had just over 700 followers in 2016. Currently, over 26,000 people now follow the page, with reach growing across other social media platforms. But a successful social media approach is not measurable by followers alone. Although it is obviously worthwhile to increase your reach as much as possible, it is of little benefit if you are not attracting interest from current and potential customers and patients. Most platforms offer useful insight functions that will help you analyse how your content is being received. Take time to learn about the tools available on each platform and assess the level of interaction and engagement you are generating with your goals in mind. Engagement with your content in the form of commentary and sharing is hugely beneficial in increasing awareness of your pharmacy, so learn what your audience is most interested in and adapt your approach to maximise this.