Climbing the social ladder

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Somebody asked me a few days ago why I bother to tweet. “What's the point of Twitter?” he continued. 

For the benefit of those folks still finding their Facebook feet, Twitter is a real-time, multiple-network messaging service that affords you 140 characters at a time to tell everyone what you're doing or thinking, and to follow what other people are doing or thinking. 

For example, recently, thanks to Twitter, I watched the drama unfold of an enormous pillow fight on Wall Street, courtesy of a friend on the scene. I learned that the paint aisle at Lowe's is the most conducive for having a breakdown, courtesy of The Onion. And I heard for the first time about the 14 letters FDA's DDMAC sent to pharma in response to allegedly violative sponsor links, courtesy of someone who works with someone who got one.

Most individuals who tweet do it because, well, other people are doing it. And they are flocking in their droves: the number of unique users in the US more than doubled in March to 9.3 million, according to ComScore. 
The Twitter phenomenon epitomizes the kinds of technology-enabled shifts seen in the ways consumers communicate and seek information over the past few years. And, of course, this is relevant to pharma marketers. (Incidentally, Boehringer Ingelheim is presently regarded as the most actively tweeting pharma company, or so Abbott's Michelle Blechman told delegates at the PMRG's ANC in March.) For sure, the future ain't what it used to be.

Among a number of “no longer” style warnings dealt by speakers at last month's DTC National conference in Washington, DC, Manhattan Research's Meredith Abreu Ressi declared that “consumers are no longer a captive audience,” and that “hiding is no longer an option.”

Of course, much has been written in the past few months about pharma's issues with social media and its reluctance to embrace it. At the same event, Jeff Hitchcock, president and founder of Johnson & Johnson's recently acquired Children With Diabetes, became the latest to throw down an aggressive gauntlet to the industry. 

“Don't be afraid to get involved in these communities,” he said. “You have the tools to help these families lead great lives and they want to hear from you.” 

And on the issue of online transparency, Hitchcock believes pharma is again being too skittish. 

“You don't need to ‘pull a fast one',” he scathed. “[Consumers] may not all have PhDs, but we can understand the science. Go onto chat rooms and forums as the rep for your company. The consumers want you to get involved.”

Before pharma gets too involved, however, there might be a few other issues to resolve with some more basic online procedures, like patient registration, Shire's senior product director Mike Boken shared a cautionary tale at the DTC National. “What I'm about to tell you is embarrassing,” he warned delegates. Boken did a media buy with WebMD in Q4 2008, designed to drive patients to download a coupon for a free trial of Vyvanse. And while 31,000 consumers actually clicked through to the offer page, less than 1,500 of those ended up downloading the coupon because it was too complicated. 

“We were asking for so much information, so that we could market to them for the next two years,” said Boken, only half-joking, “that we missed the opportunity.” 

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