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World Congress mPharma Summit | July 21-22, 2015 | Boston, MA

Friday, June 05, 2009

Let's Make it a Threesome: One Other Social Media Activity Pharma Can Do Now!

Two other pharma "wise men," ie, my Twitter and Blogger friends Jonathan Richman (Dose of Digital) and Fard Johnmar (HealthcareVox), have suggested ways that pharmaceutical companies should be using social/digital media today.

Jonathan suggested 10 marketing tactics ("Ten Digital Marketing Ideas Pharma Companies Will Never Try (But Should)") and Fard suggested 4 strategies rather than tactics ("A Counterproposal: Four Digital Activities Pharma Companies MUST Engage In Now Or Next Year"). Both have some excellent ideas.

In the spirit of Twitter, ie, "less is more," I would like to suggest one specific social media activity/tactic that can be part of Fard's second strategy, which is:

"Decide whether using a specific social technology is worth the effort – i.e., is it truly a good fit for the company? And, if the answer is yes, commit to building relationships with stakeholders using these tools over the long term rather than on a year-to-year basis."

Note that this strategy is NOT applicable to brand silos within pharmaceutical companies. Brand managers are NOT long-term thinkers. They care FIRST about what's good for the brand and SECOND about what's good for the company. That is, they are not thinking "how can I increase my company's awareness among consumers and investors?"

Also, each brand has different stakeholders -- not all patients and physicians are alike in what they need from a brand. Do they even want a "relationship" with a brand? I, for one, have no need for a relationship with Lipitor! I want a relationship with a company, which consists of people. To me, a brand is not people.

Since social media is all about people, it may not be appropriate for brands to use social media to build relationships through those channels. But, a company can!

On the one hand, at least one pharma corporate blog -- JNJBTW -- has been around for a long time (ie, on a "year-to-year" basis).

On the other hand, we've seen at least 2 pharma blogs that have gone dark in the past year or so: AlliConnect and CNTO411. These were not corporate blogs; the former was product-specific and the latter was therapeutic-specific. (BTW, CNTO411 might just be reborn as a true corporate blog.)

I predict that by the end of 2010, practically every major pharmaceutical company will have a corporate blog and practically none of them will have a drug brand blog.

So the one strategy I recommend for every pharmaceutical company is to launch a corporate blog whose goal is to build a relationship with people (aka, "stakeholders") and improve that relationship over time.

One specific idea came to mind during a recent conversation with a senior director in charge of his company's wellness initiative. One of his goals is to help any patient or physician find patient assistance programs whether the program is offered by his company, by a coalition of companies or by a competitor company. He also keeps track of health reform issues, laws, etc, in the news and publishes an internal newsletter in which he summarizes the news he believes is most important for his company to learn about.

I suggested that this director start up a blog where he publishes his summaries of health reform news and also highlights various aspects of his company's wellness program. The two are tied: readers of his health reform news aggregation/commentary may submit comments asking about how they can get help obtaining free or discounted medicines. In replies, he can guide people to the appropriate areas of the wellness website he also maintains.

All pharmaceutical companies that have Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) should start up blogs like the one I suggest. It's all well and good to send out a press release announcing your assistance program, but it is necessary to follow-up with a long-term commitment, especially when we are in the midst of a long-term recession. Your stakeholders are going to want to know what you are doing now, not what you have announced last week.

P.S. This represents my further thoughts on the subject of corporate blogs. Previously, I suggested that "Corporate Blog" is an Oxymoron and I cited CNTO411 as the prime example. I still believe a blog must have a personal voice rather than a corporate voice. CNTO411 had such a voice, but since it was focused on one therapeutic area, there was no long-term strategy when the brand related to that therapy took on a different leadership or whatever. A blog like JNJBTW also has a personal voice (Marc Monseau), but it obviously was built with a long-term strategy in mind and will survive when Marc eventually moves on to other things.

The type of blog I suggested above should also have a personal voice -- the person who is most passionate about the subject and who is charged with helping patients. But it also follows Fard's wise advice: it's a good fit for the company and there is a long-term commitment.

9 comments:

  1. John:

    I feel a bit icky about the "threesome," but love the fact that you have picked up on the conversation Jonathan sparked the other day.

    I think it is possible for brands to have long-term commitments with their "stakeholders" or as you translated people. For example, some of the PR programs I worked on some moons ago involved building relationships with people over many years. So, it can be done from the brand level, we just need to focus on how brand objectives can be met over the long-term. After all -- especially in categories like MS and mental health -- people taking your product do so over many years. Doesn't it pay from to have a long-term relationship with those folks? If they feel connected to you, they MAY be more loyal the product, thus providing a positive impact on the bottom line.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. Great info on strategies during recession!

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  3. All this reminds me when the big red pitcher of Kool-Aid suddenly started talking in television commercials. I recall it being quite disconcerting. What's wrong with a voice over? Corporate blogs don't work when the "brand" talks.

    The personal blog voice, like the voice over, isn't just good for the company, they quickly become a facet of the brand.

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  4. Do you think that the pharma's legal dept will have to approve every blog post?

    I absolutely agree that pharma blogs will improve their relationship with consumers.

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  5. Yes! First, if they cannot trust a Director-level, non-marketing guy to write within leg/reg guidelines, then it should be relatively easy to review his/her posts. If they cannot do it in a timely manner, then they are not doing their jobs!

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  6. There's no doubt that there are things pharma companies can and should be doing with social media that are strategic for their businesses and products.

    The question is can their legal, medical and regulatory review teams handle the informality and immediacy that blogging invites.

    If they can, they should jump in. If they can't, I guess they'll just have to stick to sending out press releases.

    I also think the FDA are being egregiously neglectful of providing any guidance to industry on the issue of social media. And at this stage in the evolution of social media platforms, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse.

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  7. Interesting post... How difficult do you think it will be for Medical Device Companies to eventually adopt best practices for creating online networks. And is this in spite of the FDA's non-regs (do you know if they officially announced something)?

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  8. Medical device companies need to be very wary using social media if they intend to connect with consumers. They have even less experience in consumer marketing than do Rx drug companies!

    I need more knowledge of FDA device regulations myself.

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  9. Regarding legal & regulatory, I was speaking with Sally Church last week and she has a fab set of work-rounds that avoid using any social media phrases like 'online' or 'twitter' or 'blog' and focus on the outcomes and findings that result from audience engagement.

    I was impressed.
    Rebecca Caroe
    Thinking Pharma

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