Eyeforpharma emarketing Berlin 2010 take-away No. 5: Social Media – essential but impossible?

Now we’ve got over the whole “do doctors use the internet” thing (see post 1 in this series) we are asking “do doctor’s really use social media?”. Well according to Meredith Ressi from Manhattan Research, 74% of doctors in the EU use social networks, blogs and discussion forums, most of them “lurking” (reading but not contributing).  This is higher than in the US.

Facebook, approaching 400 million users, is bigger than the US in terms of population – is it really viable not to have a strategy here?  In every field of endeavour we know that “people like me” have the most influence over our decision making.  This is the power of social media, but we haven’t fully figured it out yet.  Some pharma companies have launched pages, but the company-owned pages do not allow the public to post messages – they are broadcast, not conversation, even though some (e.g. Pfizer) are offering useful information.

The main reason pharma is not engaging fully in the conversation is the regulatory environment. An interesting panel discussion on this topic highlighted the issues – the risks of adverse event reporting, off-label promotion, inappropriate promotion to consumers, etc.  The world is waiting for the FDA to proclaim its findings from the social media hearings last September but, as Silja Chouquet pointed out, patients were the least represented there; it was primarily vendors and the pharma industry.  The patients are finding the information they want and having the conversations they want to have anyway, without “permission” from the FDA or anyone else.

Silja and Emma D’Arcy were social media experts who challenged our thinking, both in the panel and their own presentations, especially with regard to consumers’ use of social networks.  Emma called social media “mighty media” and recommended a pharma strategy (for now) of “listen, listen, listen”.  She echoed my own comment that “social media is a mindset, not a toolset”.

Silja described the emergence of new “tribal leaders” in social health media – expert patients such as @sixuntilme, @jangeissler and @ePatientDave who have taken control of their own health choices and become international leaders and gurus for others with similar challenges.

I spoke of one pharma company that has a strategy of spending time with health bloggers, professionals, patients and carers to help shape opinion in a particular disease area. The fact is that many healthcare thought leaders are not yet joining the online debate even if they are reading it.  How can we encourage those with knowledge to share it responsibly with those who need it?

Is social media such a dangerous place for pharma? Len Starnes reminded us of my fellow-blogger Jon Richman’s Social Media Wiki – an excellent collection of social media projects from the pharmaceutical industry, with patients, physicians and other stakeholders. Over 300 of them, and according to Jon, not one has received a complaint.

Sometimes we can employ social tools without “conversation” as such. In my own presentation I asked if we could produce content so engaging, funny, shocking or original that it would become viral, and reach a large audience through sharing. I referred to some favourite viral videos of my own.  Check out (if you haven’t already) Piano Stairs, the Coke Happiness Machine or Extreme LED Sheep Art.  Many of them do not even mention the brand they are promoting in the video itself. Some have reached millions, but will have had the most impact where the key amplifier of “relevance” is present.

Next time I’ll share my own presentation, and hopefully the video, complete with live examples of “bad marketing”….

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Managing Director and Principal Consultant at Kanga, a digital transformation agency. I help global companies with their digital strategy and projects. Most of my clients are pharmaceutical companies.

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by Kay Wesley of Kanga Health Ltd

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