Communicating with patients through social media presents significant challenges, but also tremendous opportunities, for pharma marketers. 
First, let’s acknowledge the challenges. How do we ensure compliance with regulations that have struggled to keep pace with rapidly evolving online communications channels like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter? How do we calculate the ROI for social media? How do we navigate a communications environment that seems to turn some of our core assumptions about pharma marketing upside-down?
When communicating with patient audiences through social media, the first thing we need to ask ourselves is not what message we want to see penetrate a given blog or forum, but how we can contribute to an ongoing two-way dialogue with the community and meet people where they are seeking health info.
In February, Sanofi-Aventis began a new social media campaign with the launch of a YouTube diabetes channel ( Market research has revealed that many people with type 2 diabetes have reservations about insulin due to a series of deeply seeded myths and misperceptions. Research also indicated that many people with diabetes were spending time on YouTube, making a GoInsulin channel a new and exciting way to communicate with them. Pharma marketers must think about changing their approach from talking to the customer, to talking with the customer in their communities.
The channel is part of the broader GoInsulin campaign, which is designed to challenge the myths that create barriers to considering insulin use using real patients who have walked in those same shoes. The GoInsulin YouTube Channel features real-life inspiring video stories of people with type 2 diabetes who use insulin as part of their overall diabetes treatment plan. 
The GoInsulin YouTube channel provides an example of how social media can be used to confront a marketing challenge—in this case, the myths and misperceptions associated with insulin. The emergence of social media does not represent a paradigm shift in pharmaceutical marketing, at least not yet… but companies that take a proactive stance and cultivate relationships with online communities will be poised for future success as the communications landscape continues to evolve.  
This could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship! 
Lynn Crowe is senior product manager, metabolism marketing, Sanofi-Aventis US