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Five Lessons to Learn from Kim Kardashian: Healthcare and Social Media

Blog, Healthcare | August 13, 2015

By Kristen King, Director Healthcare Communications

The controversies never seem to stop for the infamous Kardashian clan; this time it’s ripping through the global pharmaceutical industry.

Photo credit: instagram.com/kimkardashian

Photo credit: instagram.com/kimkardashian

Kim Kardashian-West’s latest promotional stunt happened just three weeks ago when she announced to her 42 million followers via Instagram, a new partnership with a Canadian-based pharmaceutical company, or rather their U.S. affiliate. Her post – which included product endorsement and spoke to the safety of a morning sickness pill without reference to potential risks – garnered 467,000 likes and more than 11,000 comments.

If you are not up to speed, check out yesterday’s National Post front page article: Kardashian endorsement misleading: U.S. regulator; Quebec firm ordered to list risks of drug, written by health reporter Tom Blackwell, who has been covering this story.

Blackwell reported on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration‘s (FDA) warning letter to the pharmaceutical company who are asking for a “comprehensive plan of action to disseminate truthful, non-misleading and complete corrective messages” for the “false or misleading and misbranded” infraction.

So what can we learn from Mrs. Kardashian-West’s pharmaceutical debut.

1. We are living in a global world. Let’s face it, despite Canadian regulations which limit pharmaceutical advertising to brand name or disease awareness, Canadians are not sheltered from the availability of information (and advertising) from the U.S. or other countries around the world. Just turn on any U.S. based television channel and you will figure it out.

2. Social media is a powerful tool, use it responsibly. The fact is there are regulations in Canada that see social media as a form of advertising. Know the rules and better yet, find creative ways to stay within them. To learn more visit: Health Canada , Advertising Standards Canada, and Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board.

3. When in doubt, policy and procedure wins. How often do you review your social media policy? Chances are it is probably outdated. GCI recommends an annual review; possibly more often depending on your industry. Because the best way to protect yourself and your company is to develop a strategic and comprehensive policy and guidelines to ensure proper processes are in place for social media/digital campaigns. Make sure all business units are at the table including legal, compliance and medical. This will set the standard, save time and smooth execution.

4. Monitoring matters. Curiosity led me to sift through comments generated by Mrs. Kardashian-West’s Instagram post, but I soon realized only 120 out of the 11,100 comments would load. Daily monitoring, not only allows companies to stay on top of commenting and/or possible adverse event mentions, it’s an opportunity to engage in real-time social listening, which provides rich insights into audience sentiment, engagement and interest. These insights can allow for quick effective strategy changes or drive future communication plans.

5. Digital is here to stay. Digital is no longer a “passing fad” or “on the rise”, it’s our reality, and the pharmaceutical industry in Canada has been slow to fully embrace this media. Digital communications encompasses so much more than social media and websites. Today we have health apps, video sharing, live streaming apps, blogging networks, engagement portals and so much more. Just remember, executing an impactful communications strategy leverages the best tools in the box, not the most common.

Needless to say, the social media rules of engagement for the pharmaceutical industry have remained a “grey area” in the U.S. and Canada, but the advertising and promotional standards are still very clear and it is the role of healthcare communicators to know these regulations inside and out.