Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

The other day I was talking to someone who described themselves (and their company) as a 'social media expert' and was looking to sell their services to Pharma companies wishing to use this channel for marketing their brands.  Except that on asking for more information, their world was mostly confined to blogging, Twitter, Facebook and Google Analytics.  Their response to which social bookmarks did they use got an airy, "oh I don't bother with those, too time consuming."   What about showing them trend data about their brands?  "Twistori is way cool!"  I couldn't even find them in LinkedIn.  Their Pharma experience was virtually non-existent, judging by the blank look they gave me on being asked how they would address adverse event concerns with review teams. 

Well, I don't know about you, but anyone who describes themselves as a 'expert' is enough to put me off for good.  My own limited experience spans nearly 20 years in the Pharma environment, including consulting, plus 10 years experimenting with social media and I certainly wouldn't even begin to call myself an expert in either because I'm still learning every day.

The thing with any monitoring, for social media or otherwise, is that cool graphics, pretty pictures and analytics on their own aren't enough.  What does the data actually mean in relation to the product or market you are interested in?  To answer this, you need to truly understand and have experience in the space you are working in to offer a creditable proposition.  The real value vendors can offer is actionable insights, recommendations and a viable strategy to address the issue being investigated.  The data is what helps you figure out the gaps, not the be all and end all.

Suggesting a Facebook page or a Twitter account to essentially push out information is hardly a logical starting point or engaging with consumers and patients.  Using just Twitter search and Google to monitor 'brand awareness' is amateurish; you need a lot more than that to provide a useful coherent product strategy.  Pharma is one of the most regulated industries out there and thus all branded content is first reviewed for fair balance and accuracy by a committee of medical, regulatory and legal experts.  Companies take this role seriously, after all, no one wants to get a warning letter from the FDA for promotional abuses, as 14 of them did recently for Google ads such as

Social media is much much more than a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a few blog posts.

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15 Responses to “Social Media Monitoring and Pharma”

  1. John Mack

    I agree with you totally (see “When it Comes to Pharma Marketing on the Internet, be Careful of the Advice You Get from ‘Experts'”:
    There are all kinds of experts advising pharma marketers about internet marketing:
    * Regulatory experts who have a shallow understanding of the internet
    * Internet experts who have a shallow understanding of pharma regulatory constraints
    * Marketing experts who have a shallow understanding of both the internet and regulations
    * Health experts who don’t understand marketing
    Consumer experts who…
    What’s needed is for ALL these experts to get together and learn from one another and perhaps agree on some best practices for the pharma eMarketing.

  2. Suki Fuller

    As I say often the only thing I am expert at is being Suki Fuller, however; even that changes a little with each and every day.

  3. WendyBlackburn

    Well done Sally. From the agency perspective, I’m seeing all kinds of these so-called experts clammoring to enter the pharma world because, often, their auto or financial accounts tanked due to the economy. And that’s unfortunate. But it doesn’t make them an instant expert on pharma. Like you, I am still learning something new every day.
    Pharma marketers be warned. Partnering with someone that actually knows the industry well will not only save you training and do-over time, but perhaps a warning letter or two in the long run.

  4. Sally Church

    Amen to that, Suki.
    It’s a good reminder that we should all stay authentic and just be ourselves.

  5. mark

    great post.
    you’re quite right – its one thing to listen, its another entirely to understand the key issues facing a pharma brand and then put what you hear into something meaningful and possibly even actionable for the brand.

  6. Sally Church

    I also had a lovely example of regulatory experts who didn’t understand Commercial this week as well, but yes, agree that communication, sharing and dialogue is the best way forward.
    Maybe some good things will come out of Shwen Gwee’s SocialPharmer Unconference taking place in Boston on 21st April:

  7. Sally Church

    Sadly, that is a very true observation, Wendy. There are also a lot of generic social media types out there who just want to push their ‘social media strategy’ and charge $200K+ to set up a corporate blog, with little understanding of the wider issues.

  8. Ellen

    Couldn’t agree with you more…experts are everywhere, but less so with deep understandings of pharma, its consumers and the way in which they interact with each other online and off line and their physicians.
    Also, some of this I think is brought on by pharma itself who often runs to the ‘trend du jour’ often without really stepping back and thinking how to best incorporate new areas into a cohesive brand strategy…certainly agree, just pushing out press releases on twitter isn’t going to do much to add to the conversation…

  9. Richard Halpern

    Another application for pharma using social media is a top-line social media monitoring platform used to assist with reputation monitoring and competitive intelligence-gathering. A custom-created dashboard is built, and on a weekly basis, humans read all the results and pull together the most pertinent results for client review. Keywords from the client, like brand names and competitor brands pull from scores of pharma-related blogs, podcasts, sites.

  10. MaverickNY

    Agreed entirely on that, although I might be slightly biased as my company provides those very sort of services to our Pharma clients.
    The custom dashboard is really useful for a number of things, including issues management, competitive intelligence, reputation management and even patient segmentation.

  11. MaverickNY

    The biggest challenge for Pharma is often not that they don’t want to engage (they do), but how to communicate efficiently and effectively without running foul of regulatory issues.
    Some of them are at least dipping their toes in water and making a start though, which is a good thing.

  12. MaverickNY

    True, Mark.
    Mind you, it’s quite amusing watching some of the so-called digital agencies make a lot of noise until you realise they don’t have their own blog, interact on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed etc and engage in their own audience.
    Still, the smart marketers are watching, listening and learning even as we speak. The tide is turning, thankfully.

  13. Silja Chouquet

    Sally, you are absolutely right about all sort of “experts“ smelling the gold rush in pharma and social media. But I think this is part of the issue. Social media does not belong to pharma! Patients on social media are very educated and demand that ANYONE trying to engage with them, incl. pharma, adds value to the conversation.
    Trying to use social media as another media channel to push out your same old DTC marketing messages (which were not so great to start with to be quite frank) is not going to work.
    As you can see, I am quiet passionate about this topic and am glad you brought it up. Would love to hear your thoughts on this post:

  14. Romany Thresher

    Everybody seems to be an “expert” these days. Just shout loud enough and you are an “expert”.
    Yes, I agree, I learn something new each and everyday. I am a continuos work in progress. I can share my experiences, skills and things I learnt along the way but I can guarantee that you will have something to show me which I never knew before.
    I try and keep up with the online world and as soon as I think I got it, something else comes up and blows me away.

  15. Bruno

    great discussion. It seems that some pharmas are very concerns about adverse event reporting obligations from monitoring patient blogs… others don’t seem to care as much.

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