Rush to Social Media: It’s Not About Doing It, It’s How You Do It.

By August 23, 2009Uncategorized

Social media and innovation…in some ways, the rush towards social media by pharma brands is a seminal moment in the maturing of their marketing. Up until social media emerged as an influencer in the treatment choice and adherence discussion, many pharma marketers really only gave lip serve in terms of insight and focus on patient’s real needs.

Perhaps because no one really thought that patients had any real power.

Then social media came onto the scene and grew like weeds; and with that growth, suddenly, pharma brands realized conversations were being held that they could not be part of but were often about their brand. Well, that’s like overhearing some gossipy people talk about you and you feel the frustration of not being able to relate the story from your perspective.

So after a decade or more of barely addressing their patients in any meaningful way, many pharma brands have now decided WE NEED TO BE IN SOCIAL MEDIA!!!

Yes, it is a shout. And the shout creates a rush; and the rush creates the classic throw the ideas on the wall and let’s tries it, only to have the internal legal mechanisms stop any idea at the doorstep. Even worse, how about attaching all that rushed time and effort to an ROI calculation?

But what’s the rush? Where is the real need? How influential are these communities and blogs and Facebook? If I look on Facebook for breast cancer and find no group having more than 400-500 members, and yet, a charity walk for breast cancer can have ten thousand people, tell me where the real influence is? Even J&J who deserve major kudos for their ventures into Social Media, how much real traffic do they get?

So, the challenge is not why to do it, but as usual, it comes down to how to do it and be relevant. Social Media is good, but pharma is going about it in the wrong way.

Creating patient communities. Unless they have real relevance and meaning they are a waste of time. I know of one oncology brand that created a worldwide community for its patients, encouraging them to tell their story and connect with each other. Not a bad idea (though it has been replicated elsewhere in better, more authentic ways). What is the point for the patient? One visit? Two maybe? And the registration form has more caveats than signing your first home contract.

Asking patients to come to a pharma-sponsored patient community to share stories is like asking people to socialize at a police precinct and share stories of past misdeeds.

So, here are two suggestions that are about the “how to do it” which actually are based on human behavior and creating ongoing relevance and engagement.

But add a cause-related angle to the community and then it has meaning. Take, or BMS’s “Candle community” for AIDS.

This has meaning. This has the “gravity” to pull people in, speak to their values and needs and passions…and participate. And maybe come back to see what others have done. People believe in causes and they are more willing to trust the company that also supports a like-minded cause.

Another idea comes down to the community or blog “host.”

Have a community hosted by someone very senior inside the company. How about the head scientist who helped discover Viagra host that community? Viva Viagra!  

On a more serious note, what about having the head of a therapeutic group write posts a few times a week and be interviewed by patients who are trying to understand more of the actual science and not just be fearful of the side effects– the number one reason for people discontinuing or not starting treatments. Talk about authenticity and transparency. True, it would be legally challenging, but more importantly, it would be authentic, honest and you bet people would come a read the postings. People have a desperate need for medical knowledge and having a direct line to the people who have it, well, that’s a real draw.

So, cause-related could work and having access to those who really understand the drugs we take could work…is there another way?

I welcome suggestions.