This week I had the pleasure of talking to John Mack, aka @pharmaguy, on his blog talk radio about the need for senior executives to understand social media.  There has been a great deal of talk about the need for pharmaceutical companies to get involved in social media but not so much talk about the importance of senior executives also getting involved.  So why is this important?

Firstly let us take a step back and actually look at whether senior executives are using social media at all.  There are mixed reports around this but research at Standford University suggests that many senior executives do actually have social media accounts, with Linkedin being the clear favourite.  However having an account and actually being active are two very different things, and this same survey indicates a large gap between those that have accounts and those that actively use them.


It is also not overly surprising to see Linkedin at the forefront – it is after all a business network.  I would however like to see how many of the active users use Linkedin simply to stay up to date with colleagues and keep their own profiles up to date, and how many participate on a regular basis in the groups and discussions that exist on Linkedin.  I suspect very few to be doing the later.

It is also not surprising to see such a low use of Twitter given that there is often a high perceived risk and a view that Twitter is of no value.  However the reality is that Twitter is a channel that senior executives should be familiarising themselves with.  Whilst Twitter does not have the same business linkage as Linkedin it is however also a channel that can have a high business impact and value.  The beauty of Twitter is also that you can use it as a source of information without actually tweeting or contributing – which actually is a relatively low risk activity.  It is also a channel that can be particularly hard to understand without actually having spent any time using it – and is surrounded with numerous misconceptions.  Senior executives may actually find it turns out to be a useful resource for them personally – for example set up properly twitter can be a great way to quickly scan the key news and trending topics in your field for the day.

So besides this potential personal value in social media why then should senior executives being aware of how the various social media channels work and the value they bring?  Firstly there is the issue that social media has now become the norm in society for many of our stakeholders and it will become a standard way of communicating, whether the industry likes it or not.  This means that social media should no longer be a stand alone area but rather it should be integrated into all key communications and should be handled as a strategic “asset” and integrated into corporate strategy.  In order for this to happen at organisation level it will need to be sanctioned by senior level executives.  This level of integration also requires sign off, at senior level, on training, headcount etc.

The other reason for senior level support (and hence a need to understand the channel) is that social media is part of a change in thinking around how companies within the industry interact with stakeholders.  This involves some serious change management and at this level it requires senior level backing – including signing off on specific budgets, changes in working and training.

The third reason senior level executives need to understand social media is the global nature of the channel.  This means that there need to be some clear direction from the leaders of the organisation as to how it will be handled at global and at local level.  Will each country have their own accounts or rather will social media be organised by language, which is how stakeholders use it after all, and in which case what organisational changes need to be implemented for this work.  Given than traditionally in this industry there is very little cross-country co-operation on external communications, and the internal local politics involved, it will probably take mandating from the leadership team for a more international form of co-operation and communication.

The final reason is that for all projects, be they around social media or traditional media, there is a higher chance of success if the project has senior level sponsorship.

Social media has now moved mainstream and has become of strategic importance to pharmaceutical organisations.  As such this means that the leadership in these organisations needs to understand social media and stop being afraid of it.  Rather they need to start seeing social media for what it is – a highly valuable communication and engagement tool that is enabling organisations to be closer to stakeholders than ever before.  The opportunities this presents for a business are vast, so business leaders now need to get on board the social media bandwagon.

So how can senior level executives get on this bandwagon and learn what they need to know about social media?  Simple – contact me!

You can hear the full interview here:

And you can read John Mack’s post about the interview here:


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