Thursday, February 4, 2010

Joining the Conversation: Quick Social Media Tips for Pharma

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This blog is co-posted with The Pharma Marketer.

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The market’s been abuzz with social media and pharma lately, with varying opinions on the level of engagement a pharmaceutical company can — or should — have. FDA joining Twitter certainly bodes well for support of social network

ing platforms as a viable medium for reaching end users, but each company vastly differs in terms of their interpretation of regulatory guidelines. And almost no one wants to open up the can of worms of adverse events reporting and other potentially litiguous elements that come into play once you create a direct line of communication. But there are benign — yet effective — ways that you can connect with your audience via social media that should get past your Medical/Legal review board (although we can’t make any guarantees!). In any event, it’s a good place to start, and spark some thinking around how these tools might align with your current communications strategy. But before you dive into any of these tactics, be sure to use pre-approved content to avoid a lengthy vetting and leg

al approvals process so that you can enter the social media space safely, and build upon your interactions to push the envelope further once you’ve demonstrated solid results.

Expanding the eyeballs: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to marketing through social media. That approved TV spot or print piece could easily be delivered through a social network that expands your reach amo

ng your desired audience, and offer ways for them to interact with the content more meaningfully than with a fleeting ad. Merck, for example, is using Facebook to promote Gardasil, its cervical cancer vaccine; Bayer Aspirin has a Facebook page for women; and McNeil has an adults-with-ADHD awareness page. And companies like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have harnessed the power of YouTube with promotional videos such as a restless-legs awareness film and spots for asthma med Symbicort, respectively. So, some precedents have been set for taking the plunge with existing materials to at least begin building greater awareness at the places where your consumers are spending a majority of their time.

Facilitating the conversation: One of the benefits of

social media is community, so while it can be tricky to interact directly with cosnumers, you can facilitate interactions that they can have with each other. Offering avenues through which they can connect with others who may have the same symptoms, or where they can share experiences that they’ve had with treatments is key for creating a personal connection that ultimately translates back to your brand. For example, a community site sponsored by McNeil is aimed at adults with ADHD , and recently offered an online audio conference for caregivers, a comment area, a podcast on financial advice and an ADHD self-assessment tool. Does this also come with the potential of users sharing negative experiences? Sure, but isn’t it better to know what problems they are having so that you can address them via the appropriate channels, and tailor your efforts accordin

gly? So long as you clearly post guidelines around any potential drug issues, the way Johnson & Johnson has through their blog, you can be the host of these interactions and obtain valuable data and more effectively meet the needs of your current patients and potential consumer.

Use your learned intermediaries: While you may not b

e able to dispense medical advice, for which most onlne health users are seeking, you can leverage the direct connections you build with consumers through social media to direct them to their healthcare professional. Offer downloadable tools such as ‘questions to ask your doctor’ or a checklist they can bring to their doctor’s office to learn more about their condition, and your therapy. You can even close the loop on this process by encouraging them to return to your site post-office visit to download ad

ditional materials or a coupon code for a script. Bringing the physician into the mix can only serve to help relationships with your network of prescribers, and also gives the user relevant materials they need in their decision-making process, direct from the source, instead of the myriad of 3rd party health sites dispending diagnoses and information. Empowering patients to take charge of their condition will show them that you are invested in their health, and there’s no better way to do that than through networks where they are already used to — and comfortable — sharing experiences, issues and needs.

According to the Washington Post, the FDA is watching the development with interest. “If drug companies or others working on behalf of drug companies wish to promote [their products] using social media tools, FDA would evaluat

e the resulting messages as to whether they comply with the applicable laws and regulations.” said Karen Riley, a spokeswoman for the agency. “Our laws and regulations don’t restrict the channels that prescription drug companies choose to use for disseminating product promotional messages.”

So, pharma marketers essentially have the green light to a

t least begin dipping into social media, and according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, not only do people use the Internet to seek information about healthcare options, but people with chronic illnesses are more likely to access and act on information they get from the Internet. If people are moving to the web to get this information, and pharmaceutical companies don’t join in, then they are leaving their bran

d to be shaped by almost entirely by outside forces with zero control of their message. And with the abundance of medical online sources such as Medpedia, Wikipedia, Sermo and Physician Connect, the case has been made for building communities around consumer health, so the only thing stopping you from carving a place for your brand in that conversation is you.

The Pharma Marketer is an official media partner of the ePharma Summit.

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