Thursday, January 18, 2007

Banned from CafePharma!

I'm not banned yet, but I soon expect to be banned from CafePharma. At the moment, all my posts have been deleted. Here's the story, which is an object lesson in non-social online networking!

Recently, I have been visiting CafePharma and posting a few messages there to learn what the "other half" -- sales -- thinks of pharmaceutical issues. One of the more popular questions I asked was "Are Sales Reps Necessary?" This was part of research I was doing for this blog and an article that was recently published in Pharma Marketing News (see "Are Sales Reps Necessary?").

For those of you who have never heard of CafePharma, it is an online site for pharmaceutical sales representatives and features bulletin boards where visitors have anonymous "discussions" on a range of topics. I would characterize the majority of these discussions as "Potty-Mouth Gossip Fests." Nevertheless, there can be some nuggets among the nuts.

All my CafePharma posts were deleted, including the entire thread "Are Sales Reps Necessary?". Here's what the CafePharma Administrator said:
"I'm sorry, but your posts are going to be deleted because they violate our board advertising and solicitation policy. Please do not continue to use this board to advertise your blog, or we will delete your account."
A bit Stalinesque, wouldn't you say? I was hardly advertising my blog, but doing some research for an article I was writing. I did link to a blog post I made as background, just as many other people do on CafePharma. The only thing is, I did it under my own name and not anonymously.

I expect now to be totally banned from CafePharma after they see this post and a similar one I made over there in response to a thread entitled "Why are threads being deleted???".

It seems that some CafePharma users don't like the delete first, ask questions later policy at CafePharma.

Non-social Online Networking
I am new to Web-based social networking and have just started my own site for pharmaceutical marketers to chat and network. The site is Pharma Markleting Network Forums (PMN Forums) and you can read about in this article (totally free): "An Online Community to Call Our Own"

Another reason why I was interested in CafePharma was to learn more about online social networking best policies. It turns out that CafePharma offers me a good model NOT to follow.

First, of course, is how they treated me and arbitrarily deleted a whole thread I started, whereas they could have just edited out the link to my blog in my original post. Or asked me to do it. I know this is possible with the software, which I also use to run the PMN Forums. That way, the discussion could continue and nothing in it would violate their policies.

Another thing I learned from CafePharma by negative example, is to provide members with a forum that they can use to promote themselves within reason. You need to know something about the people you are talking to online. When I ran the e-mail based PHARMA-MKTINGlistserv, people could include links and other information about themselves in their posts and signature lines. They can now do the same thing on PMN Forums. They can also have a complete public profile that includes a biography, photo, e-mail address, and links to their web sites.

In fact, I encourage PMN Forums users to include links in their posts to blog posts, articles, white papers, etc., as long as it helps in the discussion of the issue at hand and is informative rather than just promotional.

Another point about online social networking is that many people who get to know one another online would also like to meet in person. That is why I host a live networking dinner event every year and it's been very successful. There's no replacing personal, face-to-face contact as any sales rep will tell you (yes, sales reps ARE necessary!).

There's a lot I have to learn about social networking, but unfortunately CafePharma doesn't have much more it can teach me in that regard. I guess I will just be another one of its horde of anonymous visitors and posters who have as much community awareness as [insert your own species of non-social animal here; I am too stressed to Google one myself].


  1. Dear John:

    There is an expression that goes something like, "if you've never been sued, you're not working hard enough." This would probably apply to the response you received from CafePharma. Unfortunately, I don't think much of what I have read there would enhance our believe that pharmaceutical sales is necessary and useful to the pharmaceutical companies; to the physicians they call on and to the patients that are ultimately helped. This to me is unfortunate because I believe the role of education represented by the pharma sales rep is unmatched by any other industry. Perhaps you've found your inspiration for a second blog dedicated to the sales professionals.

  2. Anonymous4:42 PM


    You've probably been censored from Cafe Pharma for not using the word "f*ck" enough and attempting to introduce some intellectual content. CP is a cesspit. Funnily enough, I've just posted something along these lines myself.

    Great blog by the way, I've linked to it from my own far less lofty one. Hope you don't mind.

  3. Thanks for your comment. Next time, feel free to post a link to your blog! I don't mind.

    It's amazing that the potty mouths over there think CafePharma would be "chaotic" without the kind of moderation they have! As if it's not already chaotic!

    It's not OK for me to link to my blog because I run ads on the blog, but it's OK for an anonymous poster at CafePharma to link out to a Youtube "Cunt" PSA spoof even though the CafePharma policy states: "Overtly racist posts and posts that seem designed to denigrate specific groups (i.e.. females, specific company reps,etc) will also be removed."

    I have seen so many posts over there that denigrate women I can't even count 'em all!

  4. Welcome to the club!

    Try typing "PharmaGossip" on a post at CafePharma and see what happens......

  5. Anonymous11:11 AM

    After reading your post, I took a quick look at cafepharma to see how long it would take to find content truly worth censorship. Within 45 seconds I came across a post containing the infamous c word 3 times; language truly meriting deletion,. I don't understand how they can justify removing all your threads. Like you said, if anything why not just edit the problem content. They saw who was posting, and were just looking for an excuse to boot you.

    I think the real reason your threads were deleted is because cafepharma found out your about how you’ve been moonlighting.

  6. Very Funny!

    The attack dogs at CafePharma were unleashed today and started up at least two threads devoted to pilloring and insulting me (no PhotoShop composites, thankfully).

    One of the attackers averages 23 posts per day, seven days per week! Where do these poeple -- who are supposed to be working for a living -- find the time? At least I have an excuse -- I make my living doing this stuff.

    Although the personal attack threads were quickly removed by the moderator, it demonstrates the dark side of online social networking. Anyone who would dare defend me or anyone else in a similar positioin would suffer the same fate. Even anonymous posters would be intimidated by such relentless hounding by the potty-mouth horde.

    If these people are representative of the caliber of pharma sales reps out there, then it's no wonder Pharma has a public perception problem!

    CafePharma should be named CafeFascista!

  7. Anonymous12:56 PM


    Too bad CP doesn't know what it's missing from kicking you out.

    That said, I invite you to (cross)blog on since I tend to write articles in response to your posts anyway.

    I'm an equal opportunity industry critic.

    Jane Chin

  8. Thanks Jane. I will take you up on your offer.

    BTW, they haven't kicked me out yet. Just a lot of members making me feel very unwelcome.

    To paraphrase Groucho Marx: I don't care to belong to a club that doesn't accept people like me as members.

  9. Anonymous1:55 PM

    I've checked CP periodically over the years for a variety of purposes, e.g. check on my reps, research other companies, etc. I tend to believe that CP is not visited as often by high-performing reps; they're too busy working. Go figure.

  10. You got that right! Seriously, I hope the horde that frequently posts to CP are NOT representative of the whole class of pharmaceutical reps.

    It's interesting that my viewpoint has a more receptive audience with managers at pharma companies than with the rank and file (if reps at CP can be labeled rank and file). Maybe they thought I was seriously questioning the need for sales reps and that's why they reacted the way they did.

    And yet it all started out so well until the moderator inserted herself into the conversation.

  11. Anonymous2:47 PM

    Thanks for the invite, John.



  12. Anonymous9:29 PM

    Hey you big baby are you going to post this, seeing it has to be approved by you and all?

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. The above "big baby" comment -- obviously from a disaffected CafePharma regular -- is a sampling of the level to which many CafePharma posters stoop. Of course, this is just a mild form of the typical invective you mind find there should you ever wish to have an intelligent conversation.

    P.S. Actually, you might be able to avoid these nuts and pickup some nuggets at CafePharma by sticking to moderated CafePharma boards -- moderated in the sense that all posts are reviewed BEFORE being added to the discussion. One such board is "Ask Dr. Dave" in which physicians and sales reps carry on conversations that are actually educational and respectful.

  15. Anonymous4:14 PM


    I'm the webmaster of cafepharma. I thought it might be of interest to present our side of this story, since you have only heard one side.

    Mr. Mack's original posts on the cafepharma boards were all "teaser" type posts indicating that for more info, they could click a link to read more on his blog. They were clearly designed to drive traffic to his blog. This violated our board advertising policy. It would have been unfair to allow him to post when we delete other advertiser's posts. We have plenty of advertising venues on the site. This policy exists to keep our board posts free from advertising. I sent a courteous message to Mr. Mack to this effect, to which he originally responded to in kind. He wrote soon after, inviting me to be interviewed on his next podcast. When I very politely declined the invitation, he then proceeded to write numerous posts on our boards complaining about our policies, criticizing our moderation techniques and more. Soon this begin to anger some of our users, which prompted the posts to which he is referring.

    As far as editing out any references to his blog, this would have also been against our policies. We are not in the business of editing people's posts. They either remain in tact, or are deleted entirely. If Mr. Mack had truly been only interested in facilitating discussion among reps, he could have simply reposted his thoughts without linking to his blog. Instead, he spent his time on the cafepharma boards posting complaints about our moderating and policies. In addition, he added his website link to his signature line, again trying to drive traffic to his site.

    I think it is an additionally important point that Cafepharma message boards are not set up to be a social networking outlet (we actually have an entirely separate website used for that purpose - where we allow and encourage links and references to users' own sites). The cafepharma message boards provide a place for pharmaceutical sales reps and managers to gather and communicate among themselves about their industry, companies, and jobs, without fear of reprisal - a sounding board, if you will. Since pharm reps primarily work in the field, separated from their colleagues, there was a need for a place for them to come together. This is especially important right now with industry in such great flux. Many times, such as during the recent round of Pfizer layoffs, cafepharma was the only place where reps and sales manages could come together and communicate during rapidly changing times. Often during incidents such as these, reps are kept in the dark and lines of communication are closed off within the company. Cafepharma fills the void. Do cafepharma users use colorful language? Yes, many do. But again, remember, this is a gathering place. How many of you have ever been among colleagues and wanted to vent about a policy or management decision that angered you? Maybe you used some colorful language as well.

    Well, if this comment indeed makes it through, I do appreciate you hearing our side.

  16. Thank you Sarah.

    Now that we have all expressed our views, I think the issue is closed as far as this blog is concerned.

  17. Anonymous11:25 AM


    Anonymous response to crossposting on my site was sent to me last night. The email was signed "Anonymous due to fear of reprisal".

    In addition to the email addressing your experience, it introduced a new one addressing my attitude toward representatives, which I requested the sender to substantiate. I've posted both the original email and my response publicly on my site.

    What bothers me is a sentiment of "everyone against us the reps" from the sender's tone. There were also generalizations like: "Jane condescends reps probably because of her doctorate, marketers are the problem to the state of the industry today, John's behavior was sleazy". Yet generalization is the very reason why pharm reps being treated the way they're treated today.

    Because this was anonymous, it's not a conversation that I can take forward.

    Jane Chin

  18. Thank you for that comment, which expands this discussion beyond my case.

    You make an accusation that pharma companies have some sway over the editorial practices of CP. I can't know for sure, but I doubt that is the case. CP's reputation depends upon the belief that it provides a forum for sales and other pharma employees to freely talk about, criticise, or praise their employers without concern that Big Brother is watching and is able to influence what posts stay and what go.

    I am sure Lilly lawyers/compliance officers/corporate keep an eye on the Lilly Forum at CP.

    Perhaps Lilly has some legal remedies that it can employto force CP to remove certain posts that clearly violate the law. This has been known to happen on other Web sites and blogs.

    For example, I found a blog that was illegally using the Cialis trademark and Lilly was able to force it to cease and desist within a couple of days.

    What I am saying is that I don't agree that pharma companies have the kind of influence over posts at CP that you claim. If anyone can prove otherwise, I'd like to hear about it.

  19. Anonymous8:49 PM

    Sarah Palmer is a total joke of a moderator and a flat out liar. She continues to tell people that IP addresses are not tracked for Anon posters, yet on at least two occassions she has been able to ban an Anon troll poster. She claims to be unable to stop those who are "Outing" people, yet she can ban Anon posters. When I called her out on this--------you'll never guess what happened..........I WAS BANNED. If anyone who posts on there feels they are safe they are dead wrong.........DEAD WRONG.

  20. Anonymous10:59 PM

    hello, I'm a student at the University of Oregon and I'm writing an extensive journalism paper on the relationships between drug reps. and doctors. After interviewing a doctor and a former drug rep. I found that there is no need for drug reps. at all and all gifts, free samples, and communtication between drug reps and doctors should be banned. I still need a non-professional on the subject to interview. If you want to try to change my mind it would be even better for me.

    Contact me at

  21. Anonymous8:51 PM

    Don't feel bad. I have seen some of the most profane, racist, sexist nonsense on CP, but lately all my posts about totally innocuous subjects are being put in a queu for moderation, then never make it to the board. Is it possible to be banned from CP without even knowing it? Because my latest posts have all vanished into cyber ether, I am suspicious that IP addresses are, indeed, being tracked (despite Sarah Palmer's insistence to the contrary). How else could she ban anonymous posters? I made a reference to CAPPY (a pesky fixture on the GSK board who could be considered a troll poster) in one of my posts--I'm sure that was enough to put me on a list somewhere. The first amendment is alive and well on CP if you want to trade expletives with your colleagues, but don't try to discuss anything as controversial as whether or not to wear a tie on a hot day!

  22. Anonymous8:38 PM

    Re: Anonymous/

    If you are going to base your "extensive research" on THREE subjects, you had best pray that I am not your journalism prof.......


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