Category Archives: Twitter
This week, like thousands other around the world, I have been deeply moved by all the final messages that have been coming out of Aleppo thanks to Twitter. It really has moved me to tears reading these tweets that have been sent from what must surely feel like hell. It is heartbreaking to read these tweets that these desperate men, women and children are sending, detailing the horrors of Aleppo and in many cases saying their final farewells. Through social media we are able to hear their messages, we are able to follow and stay informed about life in this war zone from the civilians trapped inside.
On the one hand this is truly remarkable – especially given the besieged state of the city and the lack of western journalists in the city. Through social media we are able to hear first hand about what is happening – not through the words of professional journalists but by normal civilians trapped in the city. Local self-taught journalists have also been sending out reports, including drone footage of the devastation on the ground. Social media truly is placing the power of reporting news into the hands of ordinary people.
However there are also downsides. How totally demoralising and distressing it must to know that people are reading your tweets, your desperate pleas for help, and to know that you are able to tell people about the hell you are experiencing but to receive no help. To feel so powerless that you resort to sending final farewells out to a big wide world that does not seem to care – that appears to only read but not act.
Similarly as one of those people reading these tweets it is also distressing. I can only read the tweets but I am totally powerless to do much. I can sign petitions or contact my MP and demand action but I know that for many of those tweeting from Aleppo any help will come to late. I also realise that mass global outrage, as seen also through social media, appears to do very little and has not resulted in governments stepping in to stop this slaughter.
I only hope that those sending those tweets find some comfort in knowing that we out here in the world know of their suffering and that we hear their plight, even if we are powerless to do anything. I also really pray that those who send those final goodbyes will live to share their stories from safety and will be able to share their stories on social media post war, as they rebuild a country totally ripped apart by a brutal, senseless and disgraceful war.
Finally, being the animal lover that I am I also have to offer a prayer for the “cat man of Aleppo” and all the stray cats he cares for. Again thanks to social media we have been able to follow the amazing work this ambulance driver has been doing. With so much human suffering going on we often forget the animals that are also caught in this hell. They have no voice and no way of sharing their anguish and terror with the wider world. One very brave man though is there to be their voice and to care for them. When many fled he stayed to care for all the abandoned and stray cats showing the most incredible bravery. The pictures that he shares over Twitter also break my heart but there are also some heart-warming ones such as the little girl playing with a kitten that she adopted from him. What will happen to Alaa and his cats? I have no idea but I will continue to follow him on Twitter and hope that their story has a happy ending at the end of all this horror.
I was asked by a twitter friend if I could provide some articles or examples of some of the things pharmaceutical companies are doing these days on social media. I thought why not do one better and just write a post about it? I am always using Boehringer Ingelheim as an example of best practice in social media and in my mind they still are a leader but other companies are also now doing great things in social media. So I had a little perusal on Facebook, Twitter and other channels and have pulled together some of my favourite, none Boehringer, examples from recent efforts.
I though I would start with Pinterest which is one of my favourite pastimes when I am traveling and is often overlooked as a channel by pharma. I love Pinterest because it is so visual and I find it rather fun to post pictures quickly on my mobile while I sit on the bus. Pinterest also happens to be a great platform for driving traffic which I feel is something that pharma overlooks (and do not get me started on pharma and traffic driving failures!). GE has a fantastic Pinterest board covering a range of subjects relating to the organisation. t GE Healthcare does not have an active account itself there are numerous boards within the GE account dedicated to healthcare. I personally find it interesting to see them in with other non-health boards – it is rather like browsing in a bookshop when you stumble upon something you were not looking for but find fascinating. Just like a bookstore GE’s Pinterest account is worth visiting because of the number of “books”, i.e. images, there is always something to find. Many pharma have very concentrated, small boards, so once you have visited you have pretty much seen it all.
I also really like the GE pins as they are very much in line with the image GE is trying to convey and they are successfully integrated with their various campaigns like #GetFit. Many of the pins provide useful information and statistics around a disease but they also have a great board called Pinspire and one called Cancer Pintherapy which are full of inspirational content and quotes.
Learning for other pharma: start being more active on Pinterest and share more of your visual content via this channel.
2. Roche and Twitter
Whilst Roche may not be as engaging through their twitter feed as Boehringer is they do share interesting scientific content. This reflects the company’s culture and focus on science and gives them a clear image on Twitter. There are tweets targeted at patients, for example linking through to their oncology Pinterest board, but for the most part their tweets are about the science. The whole look and feel of their Twitter account also reflects this with an image of scientists emblazoned across it.
What I particularly like about their approach is that they are very clear in the purpose of their twitter feed and who they are targeting. This is a business account targeting scientists and medical professional first and foremost, followed by healthcare journalists and scientifically inclined patients. Despite this strong leaning towards the science they still manage to keep the tone of the tweets friendly and they do engage, responding to questions or tweets directed at them. Another noteworthy thing is the number of tweets – they are often tweeting multiple times a day and using relevant # which is great, in particular because this is still not always being done by some of their competitors.
Learning for pharma: Be clear in who you are targeting via twitter and use frequency and # to ensure your target audience is seeing your tweets.
3. Bayer Diabetes and Facebook
Looking in the diabetes space on social media there are some great examples from pharma notably Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Bayer Diabetes. As a whole I suggest to my pharma clients they should look in the diabetes space to see a vibrant active online community, where patients and caregivers are highly active and pharma are really engaging with some great content. As such it was a hard call but I decided to go for Bayer Diabetes as in my opinion their Facebook approach is just that bit more engaging and patient focused whilst at the same time targeting a global audience. It is also notable as its Facebook page is open to commenting, which is still not standard practice in pharma – Bayer is showing that they are open to engaging with people directly and are open to providing answers and resources in response to direct questions. In fact relating to this another notable element to the Bayer Diabetes Facebook page is how they respond to questions. I have seen quite a few questions asking about content in different languages and Bayer has responded by developing more multi-lingual content (they currently cover Spanish, Russian, Portuguese and German as well as English). This to me is fantastic to see! Many pharma still spew out their social media and look like they are engaging but in reality they are not listening to their stakeholders needs and requests as they do not adapt or alter their content. Perhaps the other notable thing about these requests that Bayer Diabetes is getting is that it suggests diabetes patients are finding this information relevant and useful if they are proactively asking for it in other languages. I suspect this is because Diabetes Care is trying to do what they say they do – namely “helping to simplify the lives of people with diabetes, empowering them to take charge of their health and happiness”. Their content certainly is clearly focused on lifestyle tips (including recipes which were also requested by followers). They occasionally intersperse the content with disease awareness campaigns but for the most part the content has a clear purpose for a clear target – diabetes patients.
What pharma can learn: Open up your Facebook and engage – if people ask you direct questions listen and answer them (otherwise why are you on Facebook in the first place?!)
These are just three nice examples from three of the platforms. When I have time I will provide my views on Linkedin, YouTube and Google+ but now I have to go back to doing some charity work and saving dogs’ lives in Romania. I would be interested to know your thoughts on your favourite pharma social media offerings and indeed GE, Roche and Bayer I would love to hear from you and hear your perspective on your efforts in this area.
Despite my grumbles of not having had time to post much to this blog I have managed to find time to write three blog posts for the ZS Associates blog The Active Ingredient. The subject of this triad of posts engaging with KOL and KOI online, starting with why it is important, how to engage online with KOL and with KOI. I actually wrote about this over a year ago and to date it is probably the blog post I have shared the most with pharma clients and teams.
It is a subject area I am passionate about and as you can read in the posts it has potentially a huge value for pharma companies. The relationships of today are increasingly happening online as well as offline and the sheer volume of content on the internet is making it harder to find relevant information. Content shared by KOI is more likely to be found, in part because of their networks, but also because people are more likely to read something shared by a KOI rather than by a pharma company. Building those online relationships today is therefore aligned with current trends but also helps companies make the most of those increasingly tight budgets by expanding the reach of their content.
I was already looking at this over three years ago, and given this potential value I really thought that pharma was going to start doing more in terms of engaging online with KOI and KOL. However to date very few are doing this, with exceptions like Roche Diagnostics & diabetes bloggers and some of the early steps being taken by Boehringer Ingelheim.
Whilst a few years ago it would have taken a great deal more manual effort to identify these KOI today there are some great tools out there to do this. I actually spoke this afternoon to Little Bird who took me through their tool. I loved it! It does exactly what one needs to identify the KOI and has some great ways of looking at the data and provides actionable insights. Of course it is just a tool and the key to any tool is how you use it. When looking at this particular area the key thing is to focus on the relationship part. Once you have identified the KOI you need to develop a clear plan of who exactly you will build a relationship with, why and how. This is something that cannot be automated and is not something that should be left to your agencies! Just as in the offline world to build the relationship you actually have to present, the same is true online. How can you build a relationship through a 3rd party, or even worse through a barrage of automated tweets?! And do you really want your agency to own these strategic relationships?
Whilst in the pass the tools were a barrier to building online relationships, today I believe the key barrier for pharma companies is the lack of internal knowledge and process to deal with this new relationship model. This however should not be a barrier anymore. Equipped with the insights and looking at how relationships work offline companies can start to put in place the expertise and process required to build these relationships. Perhaps the main question is not how can they do this but why on earth are they not started doing this already?
I have been a tad behind at writing this blog post and responding to comments, which saddens me given the glowing responses I have got in some of my comments. In an ideal world I would like to write a post weekly, rather than the current monthly timing. I should also be responding to comments ideally within 24 hours which I am also failing to do. This blog is hobby which allows to me to share my thoughts on one of my passions – digital and social media in the pharma industry – and I do enjoy writing it. Career wise I am sure the blog helps too. Sadly working as a full time consultant, trying to support my charity, spending time with my cats, and dealing with an Auto-immune disorder which often leaves me very tired and requires me to sleep 8-10 hours a night, leaves me with very little spare time to do anything else (including blogging for my charity www.hopeforstrays.com). I occasionally also blog for my employer ZS around social media but I find that far less rewarding (for one I never get many comments glowing orotherwise!). It is the age old dilemma of too much to do and too little time.
This is of course a similar dilemma that many companies face with their social media and digital efforts. A number of companies I have advised on social media where taken aback when I told them how much content and resources would be needed if they wanted to truly engage via this channel. One local brand team, for example, were adamant that they had more than enough content to set up their own Twitter feed, which warranted them going against the Corporate guidance of using the local country Twitter account. When I joined the discussion my first questions was how much content exactly? How often would they be Tweeting and what were their monitoring plans? It turned out they planned to Tweet once per week – a far cry than the recommended multiple times per day! Realising how much effort and resources (tine and financial) would be required they ended up towing the line and using the country account and appropriate #. Whilst Twitter is a particularly active social media channel that requires high levels of content and monitoring, other channels also benefit from a steady stream of new content, which takes time and money to develop.
The other side of social media is of course the monitoring element. As I have already confessed I am far from following the best practice in terms of responding to comments, but I am not a large company with products and services and a reputation to defend. Whilst as an individual I can get away with taking a few days to respond, a company is expected to respond within 24 hours, 48 max. This again takes resources, as well as a clear process, to respond appropriately. This is the scary part for many pharma companies and is also the part that has led to automated responses (and there are some classic examples where automated responses go horribly wrong). It need not be scary however if you have the appropriate level of resources involved in this activity and process in place to be able to respond rapidly. Technology can do a large amount of the leg work (for example sending an alert that a response is required) and having a team of people who can respond then facilitates responding within the time-frame required.
Many companies I know have 1 or at most 2 people dedicated to social media. In my opinion this is not enough. In fact for most tasks you should never be solely dependent on just one person because when that person is sick, on holiday or decides to quit, the company is left vulnerable (and given that you are probably requiring them work through holidays and sick days they are more likely to be sick, and eventually quit). That does not mean that you need to employ another dedicated resource but it does mean you have to have other employees appropriately trained so that they can step in if required.
For companies looking for resources in social media but struggling with restricted headcount and resources, there is one resource that few are totally optimising – their own internal network. Looking at social media there are now many employees who are active with social media in their personal life who, with appropriate training, could be called upon to help out. It is a useful skill for many people’s career and there are many ways of rewarding or incentivising people to provide that additional support. As resources within the industry become more restricted, but the demand for digital and social content and engagement rises, the industry will need to start thinking a bit more out of the box to find solutions such as this.
Sadly this is not a resource I have access to. Much as my cats take an interest in my laptop (sitting on it, walking over it, etc.) I have not yet managed to train them to write blog posts or respond to comments for me. All I can do is keep trying to find time and when I don’t, keep apologising. And perhaps posting more kitteh photos because everyone love a good kitteh photo right?
A couple of days ago I came across a very interesting question posted on Twitter. A patient had posted an image of their medication package and reached out to @novonordisk to ask why the new packaging was so big compared to the old packaging.
I noticed this post for a couple of reasons. Firstly I am always intrigued to see how pharma companies respond to direct questions from patients via social media. Will they respond, and if so how quickly and how appropriately, or will they ignore the question? I saw a great example of a tweet that Pfizer should have just ignored but instead they sent a totally inappropriate automated response – clearly no one had bothered to read the tweet!
Secondly this question made total sense and resonated with me. Like many consumers I am so fed up with excessive packaging that has become endemic in our society. I get so frustrated trying to grapple with DVD packaging or double packaging for food products. A pet hate is also large boxes for tiny products, for example my Fuelband came in a huge box which was mostly empty – why? I am aware of the damage we are doing to the environment and I hate contributing to this, especially by excessive use of packaging. This was then a great question that @martinzwart1 posted and I was intrigued to see what the response would be.
I was very happy to see a prompt response from @novonordisk, stating that they would get back as soon as possible with more information. This is a great example of how to respond when you are not able to respond immediately – far better than not responding and just waiting until you have the information to respond. @novonordisk then came back a day later with an answer – again very prompt – and also invited @martinzwart1 and me (by now I had of course jumped on the bandwagon) to get back to them with further questions. A great example of how to respond to a patient via Twitter.
Sadly the actual response was very disappointing. The reason Novo Nordisk has had to increase the size of their packaging is not through choice but rather as a result of new regulations from European authorities. This to me is so absurd. We have various EU and national directives aimed at reducing packaging and packaging waste and yet here is an EU authority demanding that packaging is made bigger!
I personally find this rather disgraceful and irritating. In a day when more and more people get their information online why on earth is there a need to increase package size? If patients require additional printed material could this not be requested at the pharmacy when they pick up their medication? Those, like me, that prefer to read the information electronically (or just ignore it) can then be served with our smaller, more environmentally friendly packaging. Why must we, and our environment, suffer as a result of over-zealous, backwards looking regulatory authorities?
I had the great pleasure today to be chatting with @Boehringer, and it was politely pointed out to me that there was a typo in my last blog post “Boehringer still chatting away”. I presumed that in my hurry to type up my post & then post I had got a where / were wrong or perhps some other typo. @Boehringer however then asked whom did I mean by Dr.X. I took a deep breath … this was not the typo I was expecting – this was a blatant error! In actual fact it was Dr XXXX – it was one of the doctors taking part in the tweet chat and I had meant to double check the name before committing some error on my blog. Well that failed spectacularly because I forgot to amened and now my blog talks about some Dr. XXXXX!
Had it been Dr X I would have been annoyed but mildly amused too. Dr XXXX however brings up all sorts of connotations and my blog is meant to be vaguely professional! If I were new to social media, or a pharma company, I would have rushed online, made the change and prayed that no one had spotted the error. As it was somebody very kindly parted me with my smartphone in Barcelona over the weekend so I had no way of getting online quickly. Panic you may think.
However I am now starting to be bit of an old hand at social media so actually I was not overly concerned. I maintained that mild amusement – of a slightly different ilk but still mildly amused. And I was in no rush to try desperately to find wifi and get online with my laptop. In fact I started mulling over writing this blog post … and wondering what sort of traffic I will get with XXXX in my title!
The reason for this mild nonchalance is because I know and I trust social media. I know for starters that the intent of my article was serious and well-intended so any comments I get will either be relevant to the rest of the post or humorous (at least I hope so). But perhaps more to the point I also feel that now that the mistake is made it is better to point it out, have a laugh and live with it rather than furiously, desperately try to correct it and pretend it never happened. This is what my experience in social media tells me.
Sadly many companies when they make a mistake in do exactly this – they try to very quickly cover up the mistake and hope no one noticed, and potentially get very defensive if anyone is so “rude” as to point the mistake out. This can back fire and there have been some spectacular examples of this in social media (Google this and you will find plenty of entertaining examples). They essentially dig that proverbial hole – which I am sure most of know from experience makes matter worse (and often even more entertaining for the bystander).
The correct way to handle this is of course not to try desperately to brush it under the carpet, bring lawyers in, close down your page, etc. The best way is to accept it, admit that you made a boo boo, and perhaps like me, have a strong drink and laugh at your mistake. Some would argue this is different from companies but I always point them back to that rather old example of the Red Cross getting slizzard post (and yes alcohol again).
I love this example. Here is a very reputable organisation, with a very serious subject matter, mistakenly tweeting about getting drunk! Shock horror! If ever there was a time to desperately back pedal here is a great example. The problem of course was that this one mistaken tweet had gone viral. Again shock horror! What to do?! A knee jerk reaction might be to temporarily close the account. A better reaction was however for the Red Cross to tweet a light hearted, but genuine apology.
The result shows why this was the right thing to do. The tweet went even more viral, along with the response, and people started using the # used in the drunken account as a drive for people to give blood. One drunken tweet turned into a charitable drive to get people to donate blood. That to me is a result – born not of planning but of being human and transparent.
It is therefore along this vein that I am now tweeting about Dr.XXXX – to show that even potentially rather embarrassing social media mistakes are not the end of the world. In fact they can reinforce your credibility and your social media appeal. You cannot plan for these things (that is just creepy and wrong) but you can show your true metal but how you respond to your mistakes online, in public. It takes guts but we will love you all the more if you can show that you too are only human. We are forgiving when you admit your mistakes and damning when you try to hide them.
Addendum: Stealing from the Red Cross mistake I wanted to also follow this with a fundraising drive for my charity Hope for Romanian Strays. If you laughed at my mistake or appreciated this blog post and think that you would like to make a difference to a life then please make a donation via paypal to @hopeforstrays Dr XXXX campaign. We need funds to feed, vaccinate, neuter and treat puppies and strays in the shelter (hence the loose connection to a doctor and the number 4). You can donate via paypal at email@example.com, mentioning DrXXXX – for €10 you can vaccinate a puppy or buy a bag of food, €21 neuters a puppy and for €40 you can vaccinate, neuter and feed a puppy. Donations for treatment will go to pay off our never-ending debts with the vets for treating all our emergency cases. So essentially for the price of 4 drinks you can save the life of a puppy or a stray, and bring hope where there is so much despair. Now that would be a great result from a social media mistake! For more information on the charity visit www.hopeforstrays.com
This week Boehringer Ingelheim held another tweet chat around Afib, which IMHO was a great success, like their other previous tweet chats. Using the #CHATafib, @Boehringer led the engagement, along with a few physicians who had been invited to join, such as DrXXXX.
Quoting @lenstarnes: “Have to congratulate @boehringer for staging the 2nd #CHATafib, not many pharmas have the courage or vision to do similar”. I think this sums up my point of view too – I genuinely congratulate Boehringer for their forward thinking and bravery in organising these tweet chats and continuing to use social media as an engagement channel, rather than just a PR channel.
I thought it was also great to see the @Boeringer handle being handed over to Dr Sona Tvrdonova, Global Medical Advisor, for the tweet chat. I have been telling pharma for years to get their medical teams involved in social media and this is a fantastic example of how that would work, and why it is a good idea.
The tweet chat itself was as always interesting and engaging. For me tweet chats provide value in a number of ways. The first has to be as a great way to introduce newcomers to twitter – give a live feeling of how twitter works and the dynamics of the platform. I also think it is a great tool for students. These conversations often include real experts and some great insights – which may be less interesting to people who know the content really well, but great for those trying to learn it can provide fantastic insights, and for free.
The other value I see in tweet chats, and again a favourite topic of mine, is how they can be used to develop relationships with people. One of the reasons this is one of my favourite topics is that it was through the #hcsmeu tweet chats that I really got into twitter and start to “meet” people via twitter, many of whom I have now met in person. People who do not use twitter do not always grasp how this is possible. The reality is there is a degree of trust and openness that is, IMHO, unique to social media. This comes from sharing and discussing common interests from the start, unlike a face to face meeting, where you have to first find out what people are interested in. The people I met through #hcsmeu all shared my passion for healthcare and social media – we had an automatic shared interest, and in the end this is the foundation that relationships are built of.
I know other pharma will start to follow @boehringer’s lead, but Boehringer holds that pioneer crown. It is well deserved and I look forward to many more successful and interesting tweet chats with @boehringer.
We recently went through that ASCO time of year again. In terms of social media this is a big event and ASCO was one of the early adopters in terms of twitter and conference #. I have been preaching for years about the value of using social media at conferences but it is only now really becoming more mainstream within the pharma and pharma conference industry.
Social media around these conferences has value in a number ways. Firstly there is increased in reach and impact of messages and information from the content. We are approaching a time when there will be more virtual attendees than physical attendees, in part driven by cost cutting measures and restrictions on paying for physicians to attend, but also driven by the increased use of digital channels to extend the conferences virtually.
Doctors who in the past were too junior or not perceived as a “key” stakeholder would not have been able to attend congress and would have to wait for the publication of reports from the conference. Now they can have real-time access to what is being presented and the latest news being presented many miles away at a conference like ASCO.
The other aspect of extended reach is to a whole stakeholder group who would, for the most part, not traditionally been able to attend – patients and caregivers. Patients are becoming increasingly engaged and active in their own healthcare, and going online to find information and following disease related #. Increasingly Patient KOI are actively following conferences and sharing the most pertinent information with their followers. This way, patients are able to find out the latest news and information that related to their disease – information that they would not traditionally have had access to outside of their doctor’s office.
A further benefit that social media at conference brings is the possibility to gain insights, identify KOI and build relationships with these KOI. Conferences are a great opportunity to identify KOI or KOL who are active on social media and to start engaging with them. Social media can be used to reach out to them directly if they are at the conference and ask for a meeting, for example. Or, alternatively, identify them at congress and then follow up later online.
Despite all these benefits many pharma companies are still not fully optimising this opportunity. Some are starting to be very active at conference but then do not optimise the on-going opportunities that can come out of these events. Fortunately though each year I am seeing more and more activity around these conference so there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.
As I mentioned in my previous post most Pharma companies have a great idea of who their offline, traditional KOLs are but very little idea of who the Key Online Influencers (KOI) are. They also rarely have any real idea of how many of their offline KOL are active online and using social media. Pharmaceutical companies should have a far better understanding of the online activity of all their key stakeholders, including KOI but also KOL.
The reality is that most top KOL, who tend to be older, are not that active on social media, but they also would see little value in spending their time with social media. They are extremely busy and have already reached the top of their game – for them social media may be a waste of time.
Younger, up and coming KOL however are another matter. Whilst they may not be digital natives they are more adept at using digital resources and some may also already be using social media. This group is also trying to reach the top and expand their name within their field and the healthcare industry. To this group, social media can be a valuable tool, enabling them to extend their reach and influence, and giving them a leg-up to top tier KOL status.
This is a huge opportunity for pharma. KOL have always played a key role within the industry and building relationships with KOL is standard practice. One of the core elements to relationships of this nature is being able to bring value. Helping up and coming KOL building their “brand” online and helping them turn themselves into KOI could be a hugely valuable resource that pharma could offer this group.
So could a pharma company go about working with up and coming KOL around their use of social media? Absolutely! The first thing to do, as with all initiatives, is to do some research. Identify who the up and coming KOLs are (the chances are this has already been done by Medical) and then find out if they are active online, and if so how and where. Also find out whether their name already has digital klout, even if they are not themselves online.
The next step is then to reach out to them and find out if they would be interested in social media training. The key element here is to communicate the value to them and ensure they understand that this would be a totally neutral training, with no expectations of them to start tweeting information about the company.
At this point I often get asked about how to set this up internally, process-wise. The reality is that this process generally already exists. Companies often do media training with KOL and social media is a form of media so the same process, with a few amendments, could be used. It should be relatively simple to offer KOL social media training, either as part of their media training, or as a stand alone training. In fact given time pressures, and some potential reticence on the part of the KOL to participate, it is probably more effective to do a quick intro to social media as part of the media training, and then offer an additional social media specific training as a follow on. This initial session can be used to demonstrate the value of social media to the KOL personally. A follow up session can then delve into more details and provide more hands on practice.
The final element to remember is to be realistic regarding timing and ROI. Do not expect every KOL trained to become a KOI – start with conservative KPIs (for example 1 in 10 trained per year will become active on social media). Also remember to be realistic with timing – becoming active on social media does not happen overnight – allow at least one year for the KOL to fully master social media and to start seeing some impact from the training.
This training could however have a great positive impact, for the KOL, the pharma company but also for other stakeholders such a patients. As the KOL becomes more fluent and adept at using social media they will move towards becoming a KOI, ensuring good quality information becomes prominent in their field. From the pharma company’s point of view if the digital information they produce and share is of good quality and of value to the KOL, and their followers, the result will be more impactful digital assets with a greater reach.
Finally of course is the fact that this whole process can act as a great way to build, and strengthen, the relationship with that up and coming KOL, so that when they do reach the top the company has played a pivotal role in supporting them and being there, as a partner. And of course let us not forget that eventually all KOL will be KOI anyway, it is just a matter of time – this opportunity exists now but will not exist in a few years time!
Thank you to KOL / KOI Dr James Underberg aka @Lipiddoc for his insights into this post.
I have been asked to talk about the topic of “Is Pharma Afraid of Social Media” at the GLC Social Media and Emarketing Forum this week in Frankfurt. Had I been asked this question a few years ago, indeed even last year, I would have said a resounding “Yes”. However times have changed and my initial response to this was “not anymore”. But I thought I would reach out and ask the community and see what they thought. I posted a poll on Linkedin, and then shared it via Linkedin and Twitter.
I will have to admit that I was mildly surprised by the result (so far at least). The first pleasant surprise was the talented Andrew Spong feeling inspired by my poll to write a blog post in response: http://stwem.com/2013/06/04/four-reasons-why-pharma-isnt-afraid-of-social-media/
The second surprise was that I thought the majority of answers would go to “Yes and No” as opposed to “Yes” or “No” – if anything because it is the most neutral “depends”-like answer. The result so far however is a resounding “Yes” with over 50% voting that Pharma is indeed afraid of social media.
Personally my response is the “Yes and No” because of the mix in responses to social media – there have been some great examples but there are also a large number of pharma companies failing to adequately engage via social media. I can however understand the strong tendency towards the “Yes” vote – there are certainly enough examples of pharma being scared of social media.
Firstly, while there are many pharma companies that have undertaken great social media initiatives (like GE Healthcare’s current #GetFit initiative) there are far more examples of no initiatives or a lack of activity. If we look at Facebook for example at first glance it looks like pharma is finally onboard as most of the big companies have some sort of Facebook presence. On closer inspection however you will notice that very few have their walls open to posting – Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the few to do this. This shows, in my opinion, a fear of opening up to conversation, questions and engagement. By restricting your engagement simply to comments under your own posts you have some form of control – comments are less visible than posts and in theory will be focused around what you posted. This reflects pharma’s fear of giving up control – something which is a reality on social media.
Secondly is the age old regulatory argument. As Andrew so rightly points out there are very few examples of regulatory bodies raising complaints or having issues with any of pharmas social media activity (including Boehringer Ingelheim’s full-on engagement approach). Nonetheless this fact seems to have evaded a number of people in pharma. Regulatory constraints is still the number one push back I get from pharma companies around why they are not active on social media. It is a great, and very comfortable excuse. It also highlights the fear of trying something “new” (even if social media really is no longer new).
Thirdly I believe politics and internal inefficiency is often holding companies back from publishing and pushing through social media guidelines. Yes many companies have these (I like Andrew have also written quite a few!) but what I have also seen is that these guidelines get approved and may get shared with a few people at global and department level, but it is not unheard of to find out that people on the ground, at local level, have no idea that these guidelines exist, or if they do they are still to concerned to take the risk to implement. For guidelines to be effective they have to be communicated, publicised and encouraged, from senior executives, otherwise they end up in drawers or getting ignored.
Finally I think the sad reality is there is still a great deal of “ostrich head in sand” syndrome in the industry – the concept that if I do not see or hear it then it does not exist or affect me. I have often heard the reason / excuse for not doing social media that “it is not relevant to me / to my stakeholders”. My response to that is “take your head out of the sand and look around”! There are very few instances when there is literally no value or use in social media. Certainly all marketing and communications related departments, and those relating to clinical trials, can glean a great deal of insights just from social media listening. As to stakeholders not using social media – this is an ever diminishing group – do they really warrant your total lack of attention in this area?
So there is still a great deal of fear of social media in pharma. That said I am an optimist and I think that fear is diminishing. I firmly believe if I redo this survey next year there will be a resounding majority answering “No” pharma is not afraid of social media.
And thanks again Andrew for the inspirational blog post (if you have got this far and have not yet read then I recommend it http://stwem.com/2013/06/04/four-reasons-why-pharma-isnt-afraid-of-social-media/ )