Using social media to market medical devices

Last summer, Robert DeSimone of MediComm Consultants, Inc., a colleague from the Medical Development Group, mentioned that several of his clients had inquired about social media.  Recognizing that medical device companies face special marketing challenges because they are regulated by the FDA, we decided to go right to the source.  Here's what we learned:

Is social media part of the medical device marketing mix?

Our primary objective was to learn whether and how medical device companies are using social media to communicate with prospects and customers, and the effect that FDA regulation or the lack thereof, is having on these activities.

Our methodology

We developed an online survey to learn more about what types of medical device companies are using social media, how they're using it, what they hope to accomplish, and how they will measure success.  We partnered with medical device trade associations and on-line social communities to distribute the survey and solicit participation.

Then, we conducted qualitative interviews with a subset of respondents to learn more about how their companies were using social media. This subset encompassed individuals working for an FDA-regulated concern that are using social media as a company.

The respondents

The sample was self-selected in that members of the groups that participated in the survey could opt whether or not to participate. The trade associations we partnered with are in California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. We focused on these three areas due to the heavy representation of medical device companies within these geographies.

Most of the social communities were sponsored by LinkedIn and focus on the medical device industry. A couple of the groups are associated with the partner trade associations. We specifically excluded pharmaceutical concerns, as this segment, unlike the medical device industry, has traditionally been more aggressive in directly pursuing consumers.

251 people participated in the survey. Fifty-seven percent of the total respondents work for regulated medical device companies; and, of the regulated group, 67% work for companies with greater than 51 employees.

The individual participants work in a number of functions. Our report, however, focused on those whose jobs include communications with customers or prospects. Of these, only 11% work for companies that include social media in the marketing mix.

We conducted follow-up interviews with five survey respondents, all of whom work for FDA-regulated companies and use social media to communicate with customers and prospects.

How medical device professionals and medical device companies are using social media

Our analysis focused on respondents who work for FDA-regulated companies. Of these, 63% use social media for job-related activities, and only a subset, (16%), use social media to communicate with customers and prospects.

Of the FDA-regulated companies that use social media to communicate with customers and prospects, most have been using social media for less than six months.  They are still in the early stages and are testing multiple social media venues.

In most of these companies, the Marketing Department initiated these communications. Only one company, among the 18 that use social media to communicate with customers or prospects, indicated that they have been able to quantify success. Nevertheless, all plan to continue funding at current levels or increase the funding for their social media programs.

Individual medical device marketers' perspectives on social media

The responses to the follow-up qualitative interviews were relatively consistent with the quantitative findings. Everyone we interviewed had started using social media relatively recently and most were careful to limit posts to content previously approved for press releases, website, and/or print communications. All the respondents we interviewed said that Marketing had initiated the company's foray into social media.

In one case, the marketing executive learned that their customers were active social media users from her customer advisory council.  She decided to pursue social media marketing because she felt it was important that the company participate in the conversation.

In another case, the company's agency recommended that they begin participating in social media. In the remaining cases, the companies began experimenting with social media because their competition was already actively involved. Most engaged the services of an agency to jump start the process.

Most of the respondents researched the market and the competition before jumping into social media. At least, one company also established social media guidelines. A couple reported the differences in participation levels they are seeing between consumers and clinicians; and even more interesting, that there are participation differences among clinicians in different roles and medical specialties.

The respondents told us they were listening as well as posting. The listening tools they use run the gamut from Google Alerts to one company's decision to pay an agency to listen in their stead.
 
It was our sense, however, that the listening and the posting were somewhat independent, and not necessarily social conversations per se.  That is, companies listened to learn what was important to their prospects and to determine where to post. Nevertheless, because they limited their posts to pre-approved content, outgoing communications were not necessarily in direct response to what others were saying.
 
As for measurement, most expressed the desire to do so, but didn't believe they had a definitive approach. One pointed to retweets and the opportunity to discover, and congratulate a customer about a recent award as early indications of success. Perhaps due to their short social media tenure, and the restrictions they face as a regulated industry, most had relatively few followers.

Perhaps surprising, except in the case of one respondent, FDA restrictions were not the major concern about launching social media programs. It was our impression that these marketers had accepted the fact that medical devices are a regulated industry with a given set of constraints.

Instead, the respondents appeared more concerned about resource limitations. None had a dedicated social media resource, although several commented that their competitors did. One didn't even have time to do much listening on a consistent basis.

Medical device companies believe they must participate in social media to remain competitive

The medical device companies that we interviewed are in the early stages of social media participation. Most are optimistic that social media will accelerate their marketing efforts, but few have enough data to measure success. Nevertheless, they feel they must participate to learn or risk being left behind. That said, medical device companies are likely to lag the competition, at least until the FDA clarifies the regulations governing the use of social media.

This blog

by Barbara Bix - In tough economic times, more and more clients are looking to their accountants to help them improve the bottom line. Often, the best way to do that is to start with the top line-since one can only decrease expenses so far. This blog discusses concrete actions you and your business-to-business clients can use to accelerate revenues.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.

43478

Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.

75960

Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.

48444

Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

89067
Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.
20582

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".

55645

William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.

80655

Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.

24956

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

64115

Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

34411
Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
102729
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.
25906

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

52577
Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
27800
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.
32109

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.

100483

The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

33281

FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.

111482

Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.

61053

Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

39135
Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.
66446

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.

92475

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

53518