Facing up to pharmas' social anxiety

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Everybody's talking about social media as the next marketing channel for pharmas, but when will it materialize, and how deep will companies go? What resources would it demand, and from where in the media mix would they be reallocated?

Amy Chafin
Specialty marketing manager
Eli Lilly

According to Wikipedia, social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media themselves. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio and video. Pharma is looking for the best ways to incorporate social media into its marketing strategy with innovative and relevant solutions that offer real value for the customer. It will be a challenge for pharma to balance accurate medical info, adverse event reporting, safety, regulatory, privacy and legal concerns with the user-generated content that will ultimately be valuable to advance patient care. In 2008 we will begin to see pharma start to explore these concepts in deeper ways. With proven success, it will ultimately become part of integrated marketing campaigns that aim to provide answers that matter.

Paul Ivans
President, founder

Funny—five years ago we were having the same conversations about search engine marketing. Pharma brands will steadily increase participation in UGC (user-generated content) by:
• Passively monitoring UGC via third-party research firms to identify trends and opportunities.
• Actively engaging in private UGC via password-protected discussions with consumer opinion leaders moderated by third-party firms to get deeper feedback on topics like disease education.
• Actively engaging in public UGC to help disease sufferers make informed choices in partnership with providers. For this to happen, we must realize that the consumer need for medically accurate drug information far outweighs our industry's concerns about adverse-event reporting. This will take time to happen, just like paid search did.

Joe Shields
Product director

The simplistic answer to this question is to redeploy media dollars from other programs or channels to fund social media tactics. But social media is more than just buying media differently. It's an approach to engaging in a continuous dialogue with your customers; enabling peer-to-peer communications; being open to unfiltered feedback; and responding in a timely, constructive and authentic way. In the long run, it may require a shift in your marketing philosophy and significant enhancements to your customer service infrastructure, but it's best to start now with small experiments and gain some experience while the cement is still wet. The main issue for pharmas is an ongoing risk-benefit assessment. For example, is posting branded video clips on YouTube to gain a few thousand views worth the potential risk of misinformation in the resulting online conversations?

Pete Blackshaw
Chief marketing officer
Nielsen Buzz Metrics

Social media is exploding, but it presents a host of challenges for pharma. At the heart of consumer-generated media is the concept of “listening to the consumer.” In a regulated industry, that can be a double-edged sword, insofar as knowledge over certain adverse events can trigger reporting requirements. Any pharma marketer looking to push social media marketing will need to carefully think this through. If I were a pharma brand manager, I would redouble my efforts on the brand Web site to ensure the site provides meaningful “social currency” to customers active in social media channels. I would also make a strong case to the lawyers that there's more upside than downside in actively listening to direct consumer feedback. It's all a process of education.

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