Patient Marketing Report: Friending Social Media

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When Cathy Nguyen pulled out her camcorder to film a Kaba Modern performance at the University of California, Irvine, she may not have been thinking about chronic hepatitis B. Like everyone else at the event, Nguyen was required to view an unbranded educational video before the show, in exchange for free tickets. Later, when she posted her video on YouTube, she may have seen one of several other videos from the event, some featuring interviews with Kaba Modern members speaking directly about the disease. “One in 10 Asian Americans can be infected with hepatitis B and not even know it,” internet personality and comedian Christine Gambito, aka Happy Slip, told a cameraman at the event. That video ended up on, a news and community site focused on Korean pop music.

From the stage at the University of Houston, Happy Slip told concert-goers that “one in four [Asian Americans with hepatitis B] will die of liver cancer or liver failure,” adding that “It's up to you guys, this young generation, to take this news back to your families, because we all know how the older generation…they don't want to go to the doctor, they don't want to get checked out for anything, but it's very important if you know those great statistics to go ahead and bring this piece of information home to our families, OK?”

Anyone who watched Nguyen's video of the UC Irvine event on YouTube, or the video or one of the dozens of other videos taken from the crowd at the University of Houston or UC Davis, would have either heard these statistics directly, or seen a link to B Here (, Gilead's Hepatitis B educational campaign site. The allkpop video and Nguyen's recording have received over 20,000 views between them. On the allkpop site, someone lamented in a comment that his brother had hepatitis B. Under a post about B Here on Happy Slip's Facebook profile, someone wrote: “Yay. Got my voucher today :) interesting exhibit; informative movie.”  

This is real social media in action, and for now you won't find it on a pharma-owned site, but that's OK, explains Carl Desmond, creative director and partner at Awaken Interactive, an agency that helped design Gilead's B Here campaign. “With YouTube, we turned off the comments and with Facebook we disabled the comment functionality,” said Desmond. “Any conversation or relationship that develops outside of that—say between friends on Facebook—don't appear in the B Here channels, and aren't an issue.”

With perhaps one exception—Johnson & Johnson's Children with Diabetes patient community—no marketing pharmaceuticals are permitting unfettered social media and product discussions on their websites, but lots of campaigns are using social media outlets to reach consumers and patients in an organized way. That isn't to say channels like Twitter or Facebook are right for every campaign, but it was right for Gilead, according to a hepatitis product manager at Gilead. “We didn't do it just for the sake of doing it, because it's the new thing, or it's cool or because it's the next wave of tactics,” the Gilead product manager says. “We used social media because it made sense, and it was aligned with our objectives.” In order to sell the campaign internally, the marketing team ensured that social media components were well integrated with other campaign elements. “It wasn't like, ‘Hey, we're launching a social media campaign.' It was, ‘We're launching a disease awareness educational campaign that includes X, Y and Z and our website, live educational events and media outreach,” according to the product manager.

Gilead's B Here campaign targets patient advocates, physicians, caregivers and patients, but is focused specifically on second-generation Asian Americans. The concept for the campaign evolved from an earlier Gilead effort targeting first-generation Asian immigrants. That campaign used print and outdoor materials, predominantly in Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. One ad featured an Asian girl holding a picture frame with a black and white photo of her father, with the copy, “If we knew then what we know now, he might still be here.” Sid Ho, partner at Awaken, says using the family angle for this audience has proven to be a motivating factor for hepatitis B screening. “What we're seeing is that as first generation of immigrants age, their children are taking a more active role in helping their parents with health issues,” says Ho. “What we're trying to communicate to the second generation is, you guys are here, and can make a difference to stop this vicious cycle and become aware of the disease, and make a difference.”

To get a finger on the pulse of this young, tech-savvy audience, Gilead and Awaken brought in Plan C, a multicultural agency specializing in Asian Americans. “In the major markets—New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco—there is an Asian American social scene that is quite active,” says Ho. “It's almost like a big clique in terms of the 18-29 demographic, and Plan C is an agency that lives and breathes this demographic. They have access to entertainers, performers and artists that Asian Americans follow very closely.”

The live events, organized by Plan C, consisted of not only the concerts—featuring performers like David Choi, AJ Rafael, Paul Dateh and the aforementioned Kaba Modern and Happy Slip—but also art exhibits in conjunction with the events. For the art exhibits, Plan C looked at “a variation of different artists to basically come up with ideas about what hepatitis B looks like to the audience we wanted to reach,” says Giancarlo Pacheco, president at Plan C. “We wanted to communicate through two different forms, art and live performance,” adds Pacheco.

How do all of these integrated campaign elements come together to promote Viread, Gilead's hepatitis B tablet? They don't, according to the Gilead product manager and Robby Stuckey, founder and partner at Awaken. “Viread is not even within sniffing distance of any of these events, it has no presence whatsoever,” says Stuckey. “There are certainly no tie-backs to any prescriptions or anything like that.” Asked whether any branding elements are present in the campaign, the Gilead product manager says: “Absolutely not. There is not a single connection to the brand anywhere on our website. Our objective is purely health awareness.” The product manager says the call to action for this campaign is talking with a doctor about getting screened. Since the campaign's launch, over 300 people have used the doctor search tool, according to Kelly Goeres, partner at Awaken. “Hepatitis B is a silent disease with a silent audience,” says the product manager, adding that many times there aren't immediate side effects, so individuals need to ask their primary care providers for a screening. According to, a Gilead educational site, approximately 2 million people have chronic hepatitis B in the US, and Asian Americans account for more than half of those cases. It's also very contagious—more than 50 to 100 times more contagious than HIV, according to

Once a patient is screened, and found to be infected with hepatitis B, chances are good that he or she will receive a Gilead drug. Viread picked up an indication for the disease in August 2008, and is also approved for the treatment of HIV-1. Viread sales surpassed the leading hepatitis B tablet—Bristol Myers Squibb's Barraclude—in 2009 to become a category leader in HBV antivirals. Gilead also markets Hepsera, the best selling HBV antiviral behind Baraclude, according to IMS Health data. GlaxoSmithKline struck a deal with Gilead in November to market Viread in China.

With that said, the Gilead product manager insists that Gilead isn't focused on any specific metrics for the campaign, like the number of fans garnered on Facebook (302), views of the educational video on YouTube (over 700), or visits to the B Here website (around 5,000 per month on average since October), although they are watching those numbers. “The objective for the campaign is two-fold: to educate about the disease, and to encourage people to join the campaign and spread the word,” says the Gilead product manager. At, visitors can join the campaign by making a mark on a virtual US map, identifying themselves as a patient, caregiver, doctor or advocate. Over 700 people have made a mark on the map so far. Visitors can also order a free educational DVD, submit an original poem, video, song, essay or artwork for a chance to win $2,500, and send the site to friends.

Anti-social media
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the social media triumvirate, if you will, aren't really social media at all without a real-time dialogue between brand and patient, says Bill Drummy, Heartbeat Digital's founder and CEO. As witnessed in his testimony at the FDA hearings last November, Drummy is curmudgeonly when it comes to pharma-style social media campaigns, or those campaigns he says that are pretending to be social media. “Without the ability to go back and forth and provide real-time information,” says Drummy, YouTube without comments and ratings or Facebook pages without chat or wall posting, for example, “kind of work against what social media is all about.” Drummy says instead of harping on social media channels, marketers would be “better off doing an unbranded site that has real quality content, that gives people good information, that doesn't pretend to be social media, but gives people a sense of community.” Taking his own advice, Drummy and Heartbeat Digital created for UCB, an unbranded site focused on rheumatoid arthritis.

Bert Kelly, UCB's PR manager, says garners around 50,000 visits per month. “Any time someone is diagnosed with a disease, the first thing they do is run out to the internet and try to figure out what they have and how it's treated,” says Kelly, adding that visitors to most consistently view pages with information about the disease, and how it's treated. Cimzia, a UCB drug first approved for Crohn's disease in May 2009, added an indication for moderate to severe RA last April. Cimzia's site is a separate effort, and will probably remain unbranded, although “there may be some crossover elements as time goes on,” says Kelly. “Right now, we think we're providing a resource to patients that gives them an objective look at the disease, and not pounding them in the head with our medication over any others.” is divided into five topic areas: work, family and friends, eating, travel and exercise. Much of the information within each category, requires users to register on the site to receive “updates and news about rheumatoid arthritis and its treatments,” according to the registration page. The site also features information about UCB scholarships for those affected with RA. Kelly hastens to add that scholarship winners do not have to be on Cimzia or any other medication, but must be diagnosed with the disease. The testimonial videos under the family and friends heading were recorded after advocates and patients were invited to an advisory board meeting to talk about RA and treatment. Kelly says a camera was set up, and the recordings were “real stories and real patients. No actors and no scripts.” Paid media, brochures and other doctor's office materials all point patients to, and additional advertising and marketing materials will support the site moving forward, says Kelly.

Just for kids
Bayer launched a patient communications site for kids called Didget world. The community and Didget blood monitor are currently exclusive to the UK, but Susan Yarin, a Bayer spokesperson, says the product and community will land in the US this year. Bayer's Didget blood glucose meter plugs into a Nintendo DS or DS Lite system, and children can play games that encourage consistent blood testing with reward points. Didget world is a social community for kids, and cannot be accessed without the Didget meter.

Twittering thumbs
Pharmas are also using Twitter as a way to communicate with patients. Shire rolled out a condition-specific Twitter page to complement its unbranded website last October, called ADHD Support, and Gilead is using Twitter as one component of the B here campaign. Interested consumers can sign up to follow these Twitter pages, but pharmas, at this point, cannot follow or receive messages from other people. Like comments on other social media sites, product discussions could potentially end up on a pharma-created page without the necessary risk or safety information. Shire spokesperson Matt Cabrey told MM&M in December that “Shire's approach at this time is to carefully manage the dissemination of information in a way that is consistent with existing industry regulatory guidelines, and we therefore have chosen to not offer a direct-messaging feature available through social media vehicles like Twitter.”

Regarding the B Here Twitter function, Desmond regrets not being able to follow patients, or even physicians. “It's very tempting to want to follow them, but obviously the tweets would appear in the feed and that's not something we'd be able to monitor and get approved,” says Desmond. “We have people follow us, but we don't follow them, and none of their information gets put into our information stream.”

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