Today there was another #hcsmeu tweetchat on the topic of what has changed over the last 10 years, and what will be different in 10 years time. I was really excited to be able to participate in the chat, especially as #hcsmeu tweetchats are what really got me into Twitter and introduced me to a fantastic group of like minded people, many of whom I have become good friends with.
I think we have seen a great deal of change over the last 10 years. Today most pharma companies are on social media, whereas 10 years ago it was still seen as this big scary monster by many of them. Now as to whether they are doing social well that is another question. I think what we have seen is more join, and more engagement, but I think also that some of the pioneers have stalled, and I would say many are just joining a status quo rather than trying to push and pioneer new ways of engagement to benefit patients and other stakeholders. I should not grumble as 10 years ago I dreamt that so many would be active!
However what I would like to see now is more involvement by and for relevant stakeholders. Social media in pharma is still the stronghold of Corporate PR. I question though that given how mainstream social media has become, but also the value it brings to stakeholder engagement, should we not be seeing more medics and patient advocates (working for pharma companies) involved and active? Surely patients want to hear from other patients, and medics want to engage with other medics?
Also talking of engagement, there are still far too many pharma companies which do not really engage, but just use social as a push or PR channel. Novartis’s Facebook is a case in point – they have not enabled commenting to their wall, presumably because they do not want that two way engagement with stakeholders in this channel. Is that wise though in this day and age? What does that say about a company that still does not want to engage with stakeholders via social media?
The other big change over the last 10 years has also been the change in technology. Today most of us access our social channels via mobile phone – and we really are able to engage from wherever we are at whatever time we want. We are no longer shackled to our laptop or PCs. This is particularly useful around congress, and is why we now see more “participation” at congress happening online that at the actual physical event, whilst at the same that participation is being driven by people at the event on their mobiles. Patients now also have access 24/7 from wherever they are to social media support – this could also potentially be truly life saving for some.
So what will change in 10 years time? Technology of course! I think we will see greater use of AI (thanks @Lenstarnes for flagging this one) for starters. I think we will also see a far greater blending across technology, for example the blend of VR with social media (and not just for gaming). I think we will start to see VR social media patient communities – bringing people together in a new virtual world, whether for support or education.
I think, and hope, the way organisations are structured to deal with social media will change. I would love to see patient advocacy teams grow within pharma and see them being much more involved in driving social media (not just participating) as well as social media engagement becoming part of medical’s daily job.
Finally I hope that in 10 years time we are still having great #hcsmeu tweet chats and that that awesome community of people are still there, engaging and chatting. Perhaps though with some new blood to drive new discussions. Will those chats still be happening on Twitter? Who knows but I look forward to being part of the discussion wherever it is!
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?