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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Faux Social Marketing: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Pharmaceutical marketers want their cake and eat it too when it comes to social media marketing. That is, they want to engage in patient communities but they don't want to hear what some patients have to say about their products -- it might be an adverse event that they will have to report to the FDA.

Now, thanks to The CementWorks -- UCB's agency of record for its Crohn's disease drug Cimzia -- pharma companies have a way to build a "community" online and NOT worry about pesky comments from patients.

What CementWorks did was to create an unbranded disease awareness campaign called Crohn's and Me. Its digital agency partner Heatbeat Digital created a website (www.crohnsandme.com) that it calls a "faux community," which "gives visitors a feeling of community without the risks of open-ended social networking" (I'm quoting from an article in the March 2009 issue of MedAdNews).

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

The sense of "community" is heightened by using the phrase "community" as often as possible and inviting site visitors to "join the community" rather than saying "register." And you MUST join in order to view most of the videos of "community" members who tell their stories.

It's a very nice faux community. I joined it and asked to receive everything they wanted to send me about "products." I can't wait until I receive my "welcome to the community" e-mail!

MedAdNews should have added "without the benefits of open-ended social networking" in its description of this faux community. Because there are definite benefits of "real" online communities, one of which is ENGAGEMENT. And that's exactly the word MedAdNews uses in the headline describing the community: "And engaged Crohn's community."

However, when you read down you'll find that Heartbeat Digital defines "engagement" by the "average length of visit." Since the site is chock full of videos, the average length of visit is much higher than would be the case with text. Hence, increased "engagement."

However, I don't think this is what most people mean by "engagement" when they talk about social networks. Engagement means to me allowing users to engage YOU in conversation by submitting comments and getting comments back from YOU and from other site visitors. Maybe that does not increase the average length of visit, but it will increase the number of visits and the number of times you can get YOUR message in front of the same visitor. Isn't that MORE important than how long someone stays on your site ignoring your message while watching shiny moving objects?

The drug industry more than any other should understand that risks always accompany benefits and just as they advise their customers about balancing drug risks with benefits, drug marketers need to learn how to balance social media risks with benefits.

But just like dumb Rx drug consumers, drug marketers want all the benefits and NONE of the risks!

Oh well. I can't have MY cake and eat it too!

Further Thoughts
On further thinking about this site I must take back the "shiny objects" criticism. The message that Crohnsandme.com wants to convey is precisely what's in the videos. So it was unfair of me to suggest that the message was not getting across while users were watching the videos. This might not be the case, however, with other sites that try to emulate this faux community.

Still, I don't think like the concept of "faux" communities when perfectly "real" communities could be created. Of course, agencies must work under the constraints imposed upon them by their clients and good luck to them convincing pharma people to accept the risks of doing that. Maybe faux is the best we can hope for.


  1. Anonymous3:47 PM

    They don't even do a good job building this faux community. And to think, the Crohn's community is so desperate for its own "community" that UCB and the cementheads totally missed the point here.

    But I'm sure they billed the hell out of the client for it. Enough so they might even get their own award (from their own industry).

  2. Anonymous8:32 PM

    Interesting that this site is labelled "sponsored" but UCB - which would imply a different kind of agreement than if a pharma company created the site. Typically "sponsored" would mean that they gave some kind of grant for the site's creation - but that all the content and resources did not go through thier med/legal process. Under the "sponsored" umbrella - I actually think they could have built a true social network for this community (www.juvenation.org is a great example) vs. a "faux" community as you put it.

  3. Baby steps, folks, baby steps. My hat's off to UCB and Heartbeat. At least they are demonstrating that they "GET IT", and they see the importance of creating "COMMUNITY". We give all sorts of kudos to J&J for their YouTube Channel and their ADHD Moms on facebook, but these efforts in many ways are "faux" ... just because they live in a social network or leverage web 2.0 technologies, doesn't make them "SOCIAL" or "COMMUNITIES". But you know what? With each step we move closer to a place where companies will have a comfort level increasing the level of true 2-way interaction. So again, I applaud the effort and simply say "onward and upward." We'll get there.
    Fabio Gratton

  4. Fabio (aka Buzz Lightyear):

    Onward and upward indeed! Did Buzz say that? Any way...

    Baby steps, yes. Making it appear more than it really is, no.

    It strikes me as a bit of false advertising or let's just say somewhat less than optimal transparency.

    Only if you have a commitment to transparency first and foremost, will successful social network marketing follow.

  5. I agree, at least UCB is trying to use social media. They haven't received any rules/guidelines from the FDA and they don't want to get fined.

    While I agree that the whole point of an interactive community is to have your customers communicate with you, it's difficult for Pharma to incorporate that into their programs due to all of the regulations they face. Legal would have to read and approve every post


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