The air of despondency that is descending over the pharmaceutical industry’s use of social media is perverse.
It has nothing to do with a putative (and also fictive) absence of interest on the patient’s part in connecting with the pharmaceutical industry. It has everything to do with the industry’s anxiety and inability to reorganize itself internally to meet the challenges of interacting with a new audience (patients) in an environment in which it feels exposed and uncomfortable (the social web).
The pharmaceutical industry’s reluctance to utilize social media outside the anodyne contexts of corporate communications is in my opinion ‘perverse’ in its primary sense: it manifests a willful determination on pharma’s part not to do what is expected or desired of it by patients.
A new agenda
Let’s begin by assuming all drugs in any given disease area are equally efficacious, have the same characteristics, and cost the same.
That is, of course, enough to send any pharmaceutical marketer into a swoon. They live to demonstrate that this is not the case. Or, rather, they lived, past tense, to do so.
However, in social environments (among others) this is the actually-existing state of affairs. Why? Because in contexts where promotion is not allowed, pharmaceutical companies must find other ways of distinguishing themselves from their competitors.
Being a visible, reliable, trustworthy participant in ongoing disease-specific conversations on the social web is an ideal place to demonstrate this – and it is possible.
A three point program to effective pharmaceutical participation in social environments:
- Be prepared – ensure all colleagues who need to know what you are going to do are aware of and comfortable with your intentions. Do not let your original plan be derailed or diluted, but make your launch plans conservative enough to ensure that you get to the starting line. Focus on building confidence: your biggest challenge will be carrying your plan forward. Drive simplicity through everything you do. Confront challenges as they arise, don’t kick them into the long grass where they will trip you up later. Write a playbook detailing what you’re going to do, where you’re going to do it, and who is going to be doing it. Cover all adverse event and product complaint requirements. Be aware of the fact that you will need to diplomatically serve and correct many educational needs internally around what will and will not happen.
- Be candid - be prepared to answer questions from the public as to who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Make a virtue of this.
- Be relevant – create distinctive suites of accounts for the disease areas you work in. You’re a pharmaceutical marketer. Be creative. Avoid anything which is or could be construed to be promotional. You’re a pharmaceutical marketer. You know what approvable looks like. Publish appropriate high quality, reliable, relevant information focusing on disease awareness and management. You’re a pharmaceutical marketer. You know where to find this stuff: what’s interesting, and what isn’t; what will reflect well on you indirectly, and what you need to avoid. Reach out to, connect and converse with advocates, healthcare professionals, and societies of interest in your disease area. You’re a pharmaceutical marketer. You know where to find them.
Is it really as easy as this? Honestly? Yes, and no. You’ll need to be able to discern and avoid the bumps in the road you will encounter, but such insights only come from experience, and in order to acquire experience, you need to be an active practitioner. It’s time to start being one.
Andrew Spong is managing director at STweM and is featured in PharmExec’s April issue, in an article about pharma’s fraught relationship with Wikipedia. He can be reached at email@example.com or @andrewspong.