Chris Brogan wrote an excellent blog post the other day emphasising that making social media or any marketing strategy work takes time and effort. He said:

"Responding to as many people as you can on Twitter is a lot of work.
Commenting as often as you can on your blog is a lot of work. Reaching
out and meeting new people and going to events that broaden your circle
of potential connections takes time. Searching and using listening
tools and finding conversations about you, your product, your
organization, is not a walk in the park.

It’s a lot easier to mass email people a generic, link-laden
newsletter. It’s much easier to place ads and hire agencies to measure
the results of those ads. If you create another banner campaign, it’s a
lot faster and simpler to measure."

These are all good points and ones I concur with wholeheartedly and yet I'm fascinated by dichotomy displayed the Pharma industry's desire for more creativity, innovation and ROI balanced with an often reflexive fear of engagement and social media because of adverse event reporting.  Some pharma companies (eg my alma mater, Novartis) allow employees to search for relevant information on Facebook and Twitter others (such as Pfizer) have a more scorched earth policy, banning all such sites even to the extent they are afraid of 3rd party vendors data mining in case adverse events are happened upon.  Most are somewhere in between; interested yet wary of dipping their toes in the water.

A recent Mindshare report came out looking at social media and it's utility for corporations.  After reading it the message was clear – significant competitive threats exist for companies who ignore social media.  After all, if you don't have the relevant competitor information, imagine how valuable it will be to your competitors.Ultimately, Pharma needs to embrace the concept of social media monitoring or be left behind as other white label gallop along catching consumer imagination and sentiments.  Develop practices and guidelines that the majority will adhere to might be a good starting point.  Self governance is always preferable to the heavy handed approach of authority. 

The FDA guidelines on promotion are clear – if you make a promotional claim fair balance is required, hence the recent day of long knives when 14 miscreants were held responsible for promoting their brands without fair balance through Google Ads.  I'm only surprised it took the FDA so long to clamp down on the practice.  It could have easily been avoided by the use of unbranded websites with or without unrestricted educational grants and banner ads or links within the site itself.  Such bold cavalier promotion was bound to get attention.

The big advantage of social media monitoring though, is that it allows companies to listen to sentiments being expressed about their brand, product or disease area and understand things better either because it changes the way they think about something or gives that a-ha moment that is rarely achieved through traditional patient market research.  This is the real power of technology and tools used wisely and judiciously, something I learned quickly 10 years ago while working on Gleevec pre-launch.  Understanding patients better, who the stakeholders, influencers and connectors are is very powerful information indeed.  Of course, we had to do it all manually then but now there are computerised tools to help do this more efficiently and effectively. 

Which brings me round to what is Pharma doing about all this?  Well, Shwen Gwee is one enterprising and dynamic individual who is organising a one day unconference on the very topic called Social Pharmer associated with HealthCamp Boston.  It's next week on 21st details here

If you're in the industry and interested in Social Media, do go and participate because Shwen has got a great line up together.  This is a great opportunity to hear what others in the industry think/do and even take your regulatory, medical or legal folks on the internal review committee with you. 

I'm devastated to be missing it as I will be in Denver at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) meeting but hopefully the presentations and discussions from the meeting will be shared offline too. 

@shwen, @swoodruff and the guys might even live tweet it for those of us unable to attend 🙂

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