The reluctance of many pharmas to establish a robust social media presence is unfortunate if understandable, given the continuing lack of clear guidelines from FDA. Marketers may play it safe and avoid experimenting with new social channels or features because of the constant worry about violating rules they didn’t even know existed. Instagram is one such emerging venue, one considered to be a ‘niche’ channel better suited to the cowboy brands from CPG and retail. However, here are four reasons why Instagram works just as well or better for pharma:

1. On Instagram, your content goes to your followers and that’s about it

To quote a character from House of Cards, in today’s world, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to 1,000. But what if you only want to talk to your target audience?

Instagram provides a ready-made solution for this – it doesn’t have a typical ‘share’ feature. Users can ‘like’ or comment on posts and follow the handle to  get more regular content, but the only way users can currently share a post is by sending it as a private message to one of their friends. Your posts are seen by your followers and – hopefully – by others who search for a hashtag you used. Knowing who will see your content helps you track responses and step in, if necessary, using internal regulatory guidance concerning social media content.


2. Users want to see pretty pictures, not have a conversation with the world

Fear of getting trolled prompts many pharmas to disable comments when posting videos on YouTube, while having a Twitter handle can seem like holding a lightning rod in the middle of a thunderstorm. Users may react badly to one post, or search for a brand they are angry at and reply to posts by them or about them. These interactions, not to mention the risk of missing an adverse event mention, underscore the need to invest in real time monitoring, which may impact other resourcing needs.

Instagram was built to serve as a showcase for pictures and videos, with limited conversation around them. Users searching for a brand name find only handles, pictures, or video posts that include the brand name as a hashtag. Searches do not lead directly to user comments, either. The platform’s visual centricity and simplicity allows you to let your images do the talking for you.


3. The new ‘Instagram Stories’ feature lets you share ephemeral visual content that disappears after 24 hours

Instagram Stories is intended for intimate, short-lived content. Users can view a story but cannot ‘like’ or comment (they can send you a direct message, but even this can be disabled). Disappearing content helps you focus on sharing content more tailored to a point-in-time campaign, reinforcing that those following along are getting access to something others aren’t. Taking advantage of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) may be that hook you need to focus on a patient story about how your product/service/patient assistance program enabled one patient to experience some special event.

Short-lived content also enables you to post updates or quick announcements without having them clutter your other visual content. This kind of random reinforcement that encourages followers to keep an eye on your feed can be productive.


4. Subtlety is the norm on Instagram

Instagram provides a level playing field to pharma marketers, who have always been subtle by default, due to DTC regulatory considerations. Users want to see pictures and not display ads, so successful brands on Instagram try to limit the use of taglines within images and videos themselves, instead using captions and relevant hashtags in the text description below an image or video post.

There are plenty of popular hashtags pharma can pick from to get more reach. The hashtag #health has been used in over 42 million public posts on Instagram, while others like #fitness, #wellness, etc. are also used widely. Disease specific hashtags such as #cancer, #diabetes, etc. are popular as well.

The nature of the image sharing community also allows you to evolve the types of content you share based on how your followers respond. With a potential lightening of the monitoring load (based on settings built-in to the platform), you may be able to become a more interactive brand by posting content that helps patients to see the possibilities your services provide, gives physicians examples to share with colleagues or patients, promotes advocacy groups you partner with, and reinforcing the importance of diagnosis or compliance through content shared by those stakeholders.


Source: Novartis Instagram


NovartisPfizer and Genentech are among the growing number of pharmas with an Instagram presence, but brands from elsewhere in healthcare, including the American Heart Association23andMe and diabetes uber-blogger Kerri Sparling, are well-established there. Instagram remains one of the most underutilized social channels for pharma, but it holds great potential for brands. Get a few good photographers, decide on a universal theme which ties into your brand’s positioning (wellness, fitness, etc.), and create a visual narrative around that theme. Content can also come from partnership with patients and advocacy groups already involved in the platform. Including them in the creative development process may help you position your brand as the friendly guest at the party, making people want to see what else you have to share later. If you approach your channel’s theme in a transparent and collaborative way, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can build a loyal follower base.

Want insights into exactly what kind of visual content will work best for your brand’s positioning? What are some best practices among the brands in your category? Want to know what patients, physicians, advocacy groups, or health systems in your disease areas are already creating and sharing content on this platform? Write to us at and we’ll be happy to help.

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