#HealthTok Revolution: Unlocking TikTok's Potential in Pharma


#HealthTok Revolution: Unlocking TikTok's Potential in Pharma
Opinion ByDanielle Rowen05.12.23

Forget Google, TikTok is where GenZ go to search. This is growing across demographics, as all age groups converge from Google to social platforms with their search queries.

21% of searches on TikTok are commercial keywords or phrases such as “Where to eat in London”, “Best cleanser to remove makeup”, or even, “Symptoms of ADHD”. This isn’t just something lifestyle agencies should be considering, but pharma companies too.

18% of respondents from a US PR Week survey indicated that they turn to social media for healthcare information and advice. In fact, up to 32% of millennials go to their healthcare professionals (HCPs) to seek prescriptions they have seen online. 

Ogilvy’s recent report on “HealthTok” indicated that “#medicaltok” has already surpassed 2.5 billion views. And in tandem, health misinformation is growing online, with a recent study reporting that 82% of videos on TikTok with mental health videos advice were misleading. 

This poses not only an opportunity for pharma, but a responsibility.

How can pharmaceutical companies leverage TikTok to engage with their audiences in meaningful ways, whilst also combating misinformation on the platform?

Pharmaceutical companies can approach a TikTok strategy using owned and/or influencer content

Pharmaceutical companies - including Pfizer, Amgen, Astellas & AbbVie - are increasingly recognizing the potential of TikTok to connect with their target audiences. Using the platform successfully means content teams must break away from the traditional pharma marketing style. Heavily scripted and highly produced content that has been battered by the Veeva process are unlikely to get you the results or ROI you’re looking for. Teams must adapt to the light-hearted, short form, and (seemingly) unscripted content format that users engage with on their regular FYP. Obviously, the heavy regulations aren't going anywhere, so TikTok strategies should focus on culture-based or unbranded DSA content. 

Learning from Astellas: How to use an Influencer Strategy in Pharma

Astellas were one of the first to do this well. They used the “TikTok Creator Marketplace” to upload a brief for an unbranded menopause campaign. They selected two relevant creators to spread their messaging and drive traffic to the campaign website. The key here is that the two influencers created ads in their own style. Dr.P (OBGYN physician) follows popular TikTok dances whilst debunking medical myths and sharing medical truths. Susan Feldman,  on the other hand, encourages women in their 50s & 60s to embrace their age, this time through understanding their menopause symptoms. For both creators, even though they have completely different approaches and executions, they were able to deliver Astellas’ messaging to the exact intended audience. The company got great results, and ‘all’ they needed to do was write a creative brief and get the idea past regulatory…

(We won’t bore you with a line-by-line of the PMCPA, but note that when collaborating with influencers on TikTok, you should ensure that they are aware of and comply with regulatory guidelines.)

Content is King: How Health & Pharma can Leverage Owned

That’s not to say that an influencer approach is the only way to create content for TikTok. A lot of companies create their own using employee experts to explain their science. This is where creating content for TikTok is essential. Don’t just reskin your LinkedIn content into a 9x16, press upload and hope for the best. The top 20 (probably even top 100) TikTok accounts are individuals, not companies. TikTok is authentic and user-generated, with recognizable faces or styles. Khaby Lame’s followers recognize HIM, DuoLingo’s mascot is immediately recognizable, and your brand needs this too. That doesn’t mean that you need a ‘face’ of your channel, who has the budget for that anyway? But a consistent style and narrative that people can recognize and relate to will get you a long way. For example, “Medicine Explained” has a clear style that is used in all videos around public health. The account has 1.7m followers and consistent engagements because it is recognized immediately & trusted by followers.

TikTok isn’t the place for heavy and branded content - consider your unbranded efforts for the platform

The limitations of pharma regulations alongside the user-generated feel that you need to be successful on TikTok, means the platform lends itself better to awareness (corporate brand and disease), rather than product marketing. The rules of TikTok marketing apply even outside of the consumer sphere; you don’t want content to be heavily produced, it’s got to feel like the rest of your feed. Branded content requires product information and days of disclaimers that users will just scroll straight past. Therefore, ‘top funnel’ or corporate brand content pillars are more appropriate:

Disease Awareness 

When you search “Rheumatoid arthritis in your 20s” on TikTok, the first 3 videos will tell you to 1) Buy compression gloves 2) Stop taking your medication 3) Meditate. 

Is this the kind of information we want patients to be relying on?

Pharmaceutical companies have a unique responsibility to address this issue, especially in the therapy areas they operate within. Search your therapy area on TikTok and see what users are talking about. Is what they’re saying correct? How can you enter those conversations with scientific facts from experts? This can be approached through educational campaigns and collaborations with experts using either of the two strategies mentioned above. The key is ensuring your narrative is appropriate to what is already being discussed on the platform. 

Culture & Diversity

For those of us working in the pharmaceutical industry, we know we’re powered by science & patient-centricity. So, whose responsibility is it to spread that message amongst the general public? 

TikTok is a great platform to use authentic storytelling to show what the company and industry stand for. This can help attract talent, improve the general perception of your company to the public, and help grow your brand amongst biotech professionals & media. TikTok provides an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to humanize their brand and build trust. By sharing stories of patients, employees, and research breakthroughs, companies can create a positive image and enhance their reputation.


TikTok's growing popularity and unique format offer pharmaceutical companies an opportunity to connect with their audiences in new and meaningful ways. By doing so, pharmaceutical companies can enhance their engagement, build a positive reputation, and contribute to the dissemination of accurate healthcare information on the platform. 

If you’re looking to move your healthcare brand onto TikTok, talk to us about our capabilities in health and pharma by reaching out via hello@substanceglobal.com




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