Determining social media’s role in pharma has been the elusive goal for marketers across the industry. With the FDA’s promised guidelines yet to appear, brands have hesitated to create Facebook pages without knowing the do’s and don’ts of social media regulation.

Now Google is presenting a new challenge with its recently launched Google+ platform, a service that fuses search with social media. While Google+ is not yet available for use by businesses (no word on when this will occur), conversations about how the platform will be integrated into pharma marketing have already begun. Here are a few tips for approaching this new challenge.

1. Develop a strategy

When Facebook announced that it would require pharma companies to allow fan comments beginning August 15th, many companies pulled their pages offline to prevent any wall posts that would risk regulatory backlash. Since companies and marketers alike were anticipating official FDA guidelines, they did not have a strategy in place for managing fan posts, causing them to remove the pages while a strategy could have been developed.

This scenario can be avoided with Google+ pages by developing a strategy now. Start by determining how messages will be delivered and how much interaction there will be with each circle (ie, each audience). Although users currently have the capability to disable comments on posts and prevent other users from sharing posts, be prepared to manage circles if Google+ follows Facebook’s lead and permanently allows posts by all users. Having a strategy in place from the beginning could avoid having to close dozens of circles and forfeit thousands of followers.

2. Use Google+ Circles to target messages for different audiences

Google+ Circles gives you the capability to segment people by creating custom circles by audience type, interests, disease state, etc. These circles represent social networks within the Google+ platform, allowing you to have an entirely separate relationship with each circle. Take advantage of this segmentation option and develop targeted messaging that focuses on what will appeal to that specific audience.

3. Add +1 buttons to your website and SEM metrics

The +1 button resembles Facebook’s “Like” button and can be placed on any website page. In less than 6 months, more than a million websites have added the +1 button, resulting in more than 4 billion impressions per day. Create a “call to action” by encouraging visitors to click on the button. Every click acts as a positive review for your website and will show in Google’s search results as well as on the visitor’s Google+ page, thus increasing credibility and visibility among new visitors.

Adding the +1 button to your SEM metrics will measure how many people are clicking on the button and will help determine how effective Google+ is working. By breaking down the metrics by webpage, organic search and paid search, you will be able to determine how effective Google+ is at driving new traffic to your site and what content appeals to most visitors.

4. Re-evaluate your text, display and video ads

The +1 ratings will also be applied to text, display and video ads, adding another factor to Google’s search result algorithm. So it may be time to take a closer look at your paid search campaigns to ensure that they are up to par.

The +1 ratings will work by showing how many users have clicked on a particular ad or website when one of their friends searches similar keywords. The expectation is that this will increase credibility of the paid search ads and drive more traffic to this area of Google’s search results page. Clicks on the +1 button will also influence ad rank in search results, making it a double-edged sword. Not only will there be pressure to stay ahead of the competition’s ratings, there will also be pressure to increase +1 clicks just to stay on the first page.

5. LISTEN

Google+ is still in its infancy, so we should anticipate many changes to the functionality and interface over the next couple of years. Users have the most influence in determining what these changes will be, so pay attention to what different circles are talking about and the suggestions that are made, so you can adjust your strategy accordingly. Also, don’t assume that the way one circle is using Google+ is the same as the others. Every user has different needs and expectations when using Google+ (or any social media platform), and this applies to each individual circle. Although it can require a fair amount of time to monitor and evaluate how each of your circles is functioning, it may be the most important tactic of your Google+ strategy. Google+ is not based on fancy creative, so those who are able to consistently provide a personalized experience for each of their circles will be the most successful.

Ken is a great deal more than just the president of a medical communications company. He is something of a hybrid. He’s part marketing manager, part creative director, and part copywriter. To the chagrin of his peers—but to the delight of his clients—Ken is a consummate perfectionist. As a former creative director for a high-end consumer agency, he challenged his creative teams to go beyond the mundane to produce work with real creative impact, something he’s just as fervent about today. From producing and directing TV commercials, to launching DTC and Rx-to-OTC switches, Ken brings his clients a world of experience in OTC pharmaceuticals as well as business, lifestyle, and high-end consumer products and services. Whether huddled with clients behind a mirror in a market research center in Houston, facilitating a strategic workshop in Madrid, or developing a global campaign either in the New Jersey or California office, Ken is always fully engaged, bringing “bestness” to all areas of his hectic but full life.