Social media, a measurable part of marketing plans

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Social media continues to be something of a blind spot for the pharma and medical device industries, with only a tiny fraction of all marketing dollars spent on online marketing. Today, the large majority of adult consumers are online, and over 50% find health information online. The average physician spends upward of eight hours online for work every week, and uses a handheld device to look up information while with patients. Yet there is still this big wonder: How should the industry approach marketing of pharma and medical products using social media? How do we stay within the FDA rules? How do we deal with adverse events and reporting? How do we keep people from saying bad things about us? How do we promote our products without annoying or alienating our audiences?

All great questions, but it's time to stop the negativity, and focus on good solid strategy. It's time to build integrated acquisition, conversion and compliance marketing programs that include more of the measurable online media in conjunction with traditional media. Today, we know the majority of patients are online looking for health information and they're discussing it via social media. They look up information before talking with doctors, and before getting surgery. Today, they are making educated health decisions with their doctors.

Rather than avoiding social media, let's join the party. For starters, let's get the brainstorms going and step outside the (FDA) box. Start conversations in new ways with patients and doctors. Let them tell us what they want. I'm not saying we should disregard the FDA, but it's time to think about new ideas first. Then figure out how the rules come into play.

UCB and patientslikeme.com are leading the charge with a new online epilepsy patient community. Their goal is to better understand people living with epilepsy, in a measurable way.

We can't wait for the FDA to deliver a list of Internet rules, because the Internet will have changed so many times between now and then, the rules will already be out of date. Instead, we need to take charge, look outside the box and include social media as a sound, measurable part of our comprehensive, integrated acquisition, conversion and compliance programs.

Ed Feather is senior brand director, PARTNERS+simons
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