Friday, July 23, 2010

On Being Voted Off the Social Media Island

Here's a bit of irony. Today, I was virtually "voted off" the social media (Twitter) island of #hcsmeu by @FarmerFunster for being too promotional. The irony is that many of the topics discussed via #hcsmeu concern how the pharmaceutical industry can get more involved in interacting with consumers via social media, as if that interaction is NOT promotional!

BTW, this is not the first time I've been "voted off" a social media site. See "Banned from CafePharma!" In that case, however, it was a badge of honor :-)

The issue prompting @FarmerFunster to vote to kick me off #hcsmeu was a question I submitted for discussion: "Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award. Who should be nominated?" @FarmerFunster said "principle of it is OK but disagree with #hcsmeu being used as a promo channel within the hour tweet-up."

WARNING! PROMO AHEAD: Learn more about Pharmaguy's Social Media Pioneer Award here.

OK, so I wasn't really "voted off" the island. Only one disgruntled participant felt the topic was inappropriate. But one disgruntled social media participant can have a major impact -- go ask Sanofi-Aventis about that (see "Disgruntled Patient Shuts Down sanofi-aventis Facebook Page") or read "Social Media: Ask Permission to Join the Conversation First or You Just Might Get Your Ass Kicked!"

What @FarmerFunster doesn't realize about me is that "I am all promo all the time. That's what a SM Pioneer shld do." My goal is to promote what I consider good pharma marketing practices. To do that, I need to promote myself and also promote colleagues and sometimes paid advertising clients.

I decided to get involved with awarding excellence in pharma social media leadership because I wanted to promote what OTHER people are doing, not me.

DISCLAIMER: I also am not making one red cent from this effort. There are no PAID sponsors. ExL's Digital Pharma East conference is a sponsor and has offered to provide a venue for the award winners ceremony during the conference. While ExL Pharma is an advertising client of mine, this sponsorship is an unpaid cooperative co-promotion.

Meanwhile, I did get some interesting insights and opinions from other #hcsmeu participants in this morning's discussion. I will review these in another post. Right now I have to avoid the sharks as I swim away from the island.


  1. The use of more emoticons comes in useful here.

    Twitter is very powerful but sometimes the 140 characters can get us in sticky water. I was on the #hcsmeu tweet-up today and while @FarmerFunster was clear I didn't 'hear' a cross or angry tone and hence the need for the :+)). I know the emoticon is a bit old school but it does help ease things along a bit.

    On today's tweet up I got told my company's latest communications project on the topic of pharma and social media didn't make sense (that it was frustrating). We used irony (a very British thing) and it didn't resonate with my fellow French tweeter. I really appreciated the feedback - that is what is great about chatting in a sm space. You sometimes get forced to listen to stuff that you would otherwise avoid.

    We don't often get to see people's body language in this channel, so give people big smiles, winks, shocked or angry faces with the power of the keyboard. They help things along. (^_~)

  2. Neil,

    Thanks for your comment. My Twitter friend @jonmrich asked: "@pharmaguy Can @FarmerFunster do that? Didn't know people had executive powers on #hcsmeu : )"

    to which I replied:

    "@jonmrich Nah! He's was just baiting me :-) #hcsmeu"

    BTW, what's with :+)) ? Are you saying I have a double chin! :-)

  3. Double chins are fabulous but no. Just a BIG GRIN :+))

  4. Hi John

    Thanks for participating in today's #hcsmeu and for having taken the time to submit a question, and I'd encourage anyone interested in taking a look at today's discussion to either review an on-the-fly archive at or the full PDF archive at when I upload it on Monday.

    I feel like Michael Moore opining that he's rather be sat on his couch watching the game, drinking beer and eating potato chips than getting involved - this is Friday night, after all, and libations are calling, quite loudly - but I'd like to add a further gloss to your comments.

    Firstly, and please take this in the hands-across-the-social-media-ocean sense in which it is intended, #hcsmeu speaks primarily to European issues. As you know, all are welcome, and it is a privilege to have enjoyed strong support from an international faculty, yourself very much included, that has given of its time to participate regularly at what are unsocial hours for US folk.

    We swim in the same streams, and generally speaking the similarities outweigh the differences. In one important way, however, a current drives #hcsmeu discussion in a different direction to American conversations, namely our contient's single payer healthcare systems.

    We don't do DTC, and to my mind, the European approach is antithetical to the US one in that we are never about promotion, any of the time.

    I've gone on the record many times as having said that I only co-founded #hcsmeu. It belongs to the community that participates in it, and not Silja (@whydotpharma)or myself. As such, despite the fact that I am the person who usually posts the questions, I am an amplifier, not a moderator. What I think of a question is irrelevant.

    Therefore, it's up to the community to air its opnions as to any given question's appropriateness, and whether they wish to discuss it. As you know, @FarmerFunster aired his opinion, I asked for further comment, and that was about it.

    I think it is playful overstatement on your part to say you have been voted off #hcsmeu (how could you be?), and I will interpret your "OK, so I wasn't really 'voted off' the island" as your redacting this if you will allow me to do so. The blog title remains a provocative one, but I appreciate that's what many of us view blogs titles are for. I'd suggest that this may give the casual or inattentive reader the enduring impression that this is what actually happened, but hey, this is your blog so I'll have to live with that ;)

    To turn to the following observation: 'The irony is that many of the topics discussed via #hcsmeu concern how the pharmaceutical industry can get more involved in interacting with consumers via social media, as if that interaction is NOT promotional!

    I'd preface my remarks by saying that in Europe I still think it is a moot point as to whether people who take prescription drugs are people, patients, or consumers first. I don't have an answer to that - I don't think there is one - but within the context of the European health conversation, 'consumer' does not enjoy preeminence as a term.


  5. Andrew,

    Thanks for the comments, especially from an European perspective.

    Of course, I am being provocative with the title. The concept of being voted off the island does not just apply to our little discussion via #hcsmeu. And it's not just about promotion. In the EU as elsewhere, the participants in social media can react against participants who they believe (rightly or wrongly) break the rules. Pharma has to be aware of the rules -- guideposts or whatever you want to call them -- before trying to engage (whether it's promotion or as some EU people may like to call it, education).

    I may not be aware of #hcsmeu's rules. It appears from your comments that's it's pretty loosey goosey except for the fact that you wish to concentrate on EU issues. As you know, many of the nominees for my award are based in the EU! Therefore, I believe my question was well within your guideposts. I was especially interested in finding more European pharma people like Alex Butler who I JUST discovered because of my silly award process!

    But if you really want to break down walls you should not have an EU-specific forum at all! Should I set up a #hcsmUSA Twitter stream? I would never do that because I would feel too [what do Europeans call it?]

  6. II think both Andrew and John's comments are really interesting.

    I feel I often have more in common with the attitude of social media exponents in the US than the UK and it is interesting to hear Andrew's perspective.

    Most companies in the US are doing SOMETHING, more than can be said for the UK environment.

    I genuinely look forward to #hcsmeu every Friday and find the discussion entertaining, enlightening and almost always educational in the broadest sense. Andrew is a true pioneer and along with Silja deserve an award of their own.

    What we are trying to do in the UK is often, on the surface, very different to our US colleagues. However social media goes beyond brand and is really about developing a different kind of relationship between an historically opaque 'command and control' pharmaceutical industry and people at large, who may or may not end up on one of our products.

    If people want to try and 'sell' product on any continent let them, I wish them luck!

    There are some great SM projects in Europe but if you look at the UK landscape it is pretty barren.

    It can take a while to get the buy in across a complex and highly regulated business. As most of us accept unless it is comments on, open and responsive it is not really worth doing.

  7. (cont. - originally submitted at the same time as the comment above)

    I'll go on to say that I don't think that this is an irony, as such. On founding the community, Silja and I hoped that #hcsmeu would provide a democratic platform upon which all the key stakeholders in the health conversation could air and share their opinions: patients, carers, healthcare professionals, the industry, policy makers, regulatory, and all the rest. #hcsmeu is currently failing in this aspiration, and is presently over-represented by the industry. That isn't to say that everyone is not welcome, because they are. However, the group was never conceived of as a testbed for pharma's social media experiments.

    If that's what #hcsmeu becomes in the fullness of time on the basis that it entices too few participants from non-industry communities to join in, then that's what will happen.

    Personally, I will be disappointed if this comes to pass, and as this isn't what I want to contribute my time to, I would at some point try to create a new, more inclusive forum elsewhere. #failbetter, and all that. Of course, I hope it doesn't come to that, and would like all #hcsmeu contributors to do more outreach work to encourage underrepresented constituencies to participate in order to move us a little closer to the ideal stakeholder equalization #hcsmeu was founded to achieve.

    Every statement that overlooks #hcsmeu's declaration and aims & objectives as stated in the Wiki is another nail in the coffin in this regard, which is a shame IMO as I think it contrary to the group's primary objectives, but as I state above, 'your children are not your children', and my opinion is of little relevance.

    Where next?

    I think we have different definitions of what a social media pioneer does. To me, promotion is the antithesis of being an effective social media pioneer, and I'd say a number of the nominees represented (particularly the EU ones) exhibit an 'info/convo always, promo never' attitude in the way in which they deport themselves.

    I note and appreciate @aurorahealthpr's [edit: and alex__butler's] comments above, and would welcome all other perspectives.


  8. Andrew,

    I sympathize with the plight of #hcsmeu; ie, the island being overrun by the pharma tribe.

    As with children, you must exercise some control over the conversation to guide #hcsmeu in the direction you want it to go. You must also introduce #hcsmeu to "friends" you'd like your child to grow up with. You may also need to put limits on the "naughty" pharma #hcsmeu friends who bring beer into your house.

    The #hcsmeu mission as stated is "to democratize the health conversation between patients, healthcare professionals, the pharmaceutical industry and other key stakeholders." Since the "pharmaceutical industry" is prominently mentioned, it is no surprise that you will get a lot of participants from that industry in the discussion.

    Maybe you should mention other key healthcare stakeholders, such as government agencies and patient advocacy organizations -- too strong EU health stakeholders -- in your mission and actively seek their participation.

    One suggestion I have is to moderate the topics for discussion. It's all very well and nice to have an "open" community, but you are experiencing the downside of that kind of organization. Just because it's "social media" does not mean there are no rules and regulations, which are the things that keep us "social" offline as well as online.

    Just my 2 cents worth of advice.

    Regardless of the downsides, I consider #hcsmeu a great success. I know it's going against my advice, but I still hope you submit a piece about #hcsmeu for publication in Pharma Marketing News. Remember, the discussion is going to happen sooner or later. You need to make sure your POV is represented.

  9. Hi John

    Thanks for sharing your further thoughts and ideas.

    Nothing would be easier than for Silja and myself to start issuing diktats and pronouncements about what #hcsmeu can and can't, should and shouldn't be doing.

    However, we've no plans to start doing that.

    Again, from my perspective the way that the industry (and more importantly, the agencies and third parties that serve their needs, whom I am clumping together in my shorthand definition) deports itself within hcsmeu is a metaphor in miniature for its conduct outside of the community.

    The industry and those who serve it need to take responsibility for managing their own reputation, and that includes the way they conduct themselves in pubic fora.

    The more guidelines that are handed out to them, the less likely they are to reform themselves - and no-one else is going to do it for them.

    Despite my quoting Kahil Gibran (not sure where that came from ;) I'm not sure how far I can go along with your 'naughty children' metaphor, and I don't consider myself to have a parental role, as explained above. It would be patronizing of me, as well as inaccurate, to describe the industry in the same way.

    Whilst children (and I like this metaphor less and less!) may be helped in the first instance to discern the outcomes that their actions result in, a parent cannot make all their decisions for them, forever. To do so would infantilize them in perpetuity and deny them the opportunity to grow.

    So no, I'm not stepping in.

    Finally: yes, you're absolutely right about the need to broadcast hcsmeu's mission to a wider stakeholder group. I bullhorn this message all over the place, but need others to help if they too believe that this is what the community should be doing.

    It is something that we will be focusing on at hcsmeucamp 2 in Maastricht later this year.

    Thanks for your kind words and support in your sign-off, and yes, that article will be with you before one of us retires :)

  10. What a frank discussion.

    In the sm space there is often no right or wrong answer. Social chat and the web is global, but regulations, culture, and to Andrew's point, the way health is paid for, create segments of similarity where it makes sense to focus discussion.

    This should not result in siloed, closed and exclusive discussion, but rather an inclusive one, where people share what they learn in the global conversation. THE LATTER IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING – this should be celebrated, rejoiced and given a hip, hip, hurray ;+).

    Think back six years, no Facebook, no YouTube, no mainstream blogging – this open, frank (and most importantly unedited) way of communicating was not available to us. I simply wouldn’t have known about the above debate which in days gone by would have taken place over email in private, or through letters to editor (which would have been sub-edited, which would have fizzled out over time), etc, etc.

    With the social space there is right to reply and people can get into great dialogue from which others can contribute and draw their own conclusions. THIS IS AMAZING STUFF and we must not forget it.

    I am an honorary member of the ‘pharma tribe’ (I own an agency where I am proud to have pharma companies as my clients [we also have professional and patient groups as clients]) and as is pointed out in the chain of comments above, the way any of us conducts ourselves is key. If you don’t conduct yourself well then you WILL get called out – again, that is a good thing.

    I am hugely passionate about #hcsmeu and the aims. I, like Alex, really look forward to the tweet-up and have made in a short time made both acquaintances and already some friends who have shared beliefs. I also like to contribute to and follow the #hcsm and #socpharm content – there is loads to learn from these mainly US focused streams. It is good to chat, it is great to share and collectively we can all move the health conversation forward, wherever we rest out (weary) heads in the world.

    I think that #hcsmeu works really well – it’s not even been a whole year yet, and for example #hcsmeu Brits (who could be assigned to the pharma tribe :+)) took part in the second #nhssm (National Health Service Social Media) tweet up at lunchtime today – having a conversation, sharing ideas and talking about #hcsmeu – bringing people together, learning from each other agreeing to disagree where necessary.


  11. This is an "adaptation" of the posting I added to the Odom Lewis blog entitled "The Global Social Conversation: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to!"

    I’m somewhat late to the party, but have been giving this subject a lot of thought lately as I survey my contacts offline about starting #hcsmCA (Canada). Thanks for starting the discussion John. It is timely for me and given me food for thought.

    hcsmeu supports sister chapters based in European countries. The idea was largely born out of language, mainly wanting to ensure that everyone could contribute in their native tongue. Developing these chapters enriches hcsmeu rather than splinters it.

    But I wonder: Does the Twittersphere really need another English-based hcsm chat? So far the feedback from my tentative inquires are encouraging me to go ahead, primarily for the reason Neil so aptly described in a post on the aforementioned blog “Social chat and the web is global, but regulations, culture, and the way health is paid for create segments of similarity where it makes sense to focus discussion.”

    Shared hcsm interests will invariably cross over and translate great ideas globally. Additionally, global and local knowledge can be transferred to work locally elsewhere.

    Interestingly enough, in my recruitment for support for #hcsmCA, I have raised awareness about #hcsm and #hcsmeu. Because my contacts focus largely on government and patient organizations, I’d like to believe that I have helped add to the participant (or at least lurker) mix of the US and European discussions.

    Like #hcsm and #hcsmeu, I would welcome global participation in a #hcsmCA chat.


  12. Dear John,

    somehow my earlier comment disappeared from this conversation, so I will add it again, in a much abbreviated version ;-)

    I thank you for your input and active participation in HCSMEU. I enjoyed this discussion and think that Andrew summed up our point of view perfectly:

    1.We see hcsmeu as a community and ourselves as curators, not moderators of the discussion.
    2. We therefore try to let the community self-regulate, rather than intervene.
    3. We hold bi-annual face-to-face meetings to talk more in-depth about processes and knowledge sharing.

    Our next meeting will take place in Maastricht in November. We hope you will be able to join us, in person or virtually.

    I could not shed the feeling though that we were wagging the dog here a little. I, personally felt that it was not the fact THAT you were promoting your award, but HOW you did it that spurred the reaction. As a matter of fact, several other awards have used HCSMEU successfully to gather nominations for their awards and consequently promote them. This triggered active participation and a whole sled of valuable suggestions of candidates.

    So what went wrong?

    Firstly, I was confused about what you were asking me for. You presented a list of nominations of candidates for your award, but I could not figure out who/how many others nominated them, nor for which achievements they were nominated. The same goes for voting. I could not figure out how to vote for a candidate, who else voted for them and how many votes they already had.

    Secondly, the other awards gave us a quick and easy way to nominate people: Use #xxx, tweet your candidates name and his/her achievements. I actually tried to suggest candidates, but landed on a survey monkey questionnaire, that looked dreadfully long, so I abandoned.

    So, I think these two points resulted in people, including myself, feeling that you were pushing your award onto us without enabling us to truly participate?

    I thus suggest, if you can integrate my suggestions, we try again and see, if this time we get a better response? What do you think?

  13. Silja,

    I am sorry that you had problems with my process, but this is not your typical award. Over 60 people had no trouble, however, filling out the form, which really isn't that long at all! I hope you try again. All the nominees are listed. I ask people to "write in" others and then add them to the list.

    This is a NOMINATION process and not a process to determine who WINS the award. That's MY decision because it's MY award. But the whole point is to find out who the pioneers are and promote their stories, regardless of whether they win my award or not. Think of it as an "unaward."

    As to HOW I presented this, I asked a very simple question: "Pharmaguy's Social Media Pioneer Award. Who should be nominated?" and provided the URL for the form. How was that so different from the other award nomination requests handled via hcsmeu?


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