The art of social engagement for pharmacy

We’ve been social long before Twitter was spawned, says Gary Paragpuri, former editor of C&D and ex- pharmacist. Gary, who led the building of the UK’s biggest, most active online pharmacy community, says the art of social engagement is reciprocity.  If your social media goal is to coalesce disparate customers into a community that is affiliated to your brand, read on.

Think back to your first computer – tell me, honestly, did you ever use the hash key, did you even know what it was called? Me neither, but fast forward a few years and #hashtags are literally everywhere. In fact I'd bet someone has even changed their name to # such is the ubiquity of the keyboard character.

Stupidity aside, hashtags have become the default linguistic technique that allow any of us to effortlessly join Question Time debates, debate the merits of Lord Sugar's latest firing or even bring down governments. And businesses (including pharmacies) too have jumped on the social bandwagon, trying to build 'engagement' around their brands in the hope that punters buy more of their products.

Sounds easy, eh? Well if you get it right, you can add massive value to your pharmacy but get it wrong and your hard-won community won't hesitate to let you know that you screwed up. So where should you start? A good a place as any is to ask yourself: Does your business need to use social media?

There is no trick answer. Put simply, if your business sells things to human beings, then social media is an absolute must - why would you not use the world's most popular communication platforms to talk to your customers? And this applies whether you sell meatballs or medicines – today's consumers expect the businesses they buy from to be willing to engage with them in the manner they choose. You can of course always choose to ignore your customers' needs, but do so and your competitors will reap the benefits.

So now you've decided you are going to get your pharmacy on the social networks, what's the secret to making it work?

Actually, there is no secret formula, you and your staff are already doing it day in and day out – ie talking to customers, helping them with their queries, providing information and supporting them to make a purchasing decision. And that friendly, face to face staff-customer interaction is exactly what you should be recreating online. Whether in the shop, on the phone or via Twitter or Facebook, make it equally easy for your customers to approach you and your staff.

But remember it's not just about flogging more products. The real goal at the end of the social rainbow is to coalesce disparate customers into a community with a strong affiliation to your brand, and to achieve this you need to give much more of yourself. So have regular conversations with your online community and share your knowledge, comment on the big health stories on the TV, showcase your staff's fund-raising activities and promote fellow businesses and events in your area. Cultivate a personal friendship in the same way you would face to face. Be nice, honest and genuine in your social activity and you'll find your community will reciprocate.

Communicating has become an art form for businesses. Where once it was through notices in shop windows before moving to newspaper ads, then radio and television, the arrival of the internet has heralded an even bigger transformation in the way businesses large and small talk to their customers.

But in the end it all boils down to the fact you're still helping your customers to make a buying decision and this is what you were doing anyway long before the world wide web spawned Twitter.