Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pinterest: Is This The Next Big Social Media Channel for Pharma?

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Today's guest post comes from at closerlook, inc. He blogs at and pretty much lives on Twitter (@digital_pharma) if you'd like to reach out.

If you haven’t heard of Pinterest yet, you are probably purposely avoiding it. It has become the fastest-growing social media site in the US (#3 behind Facebook and Twitter, ahead of #4 LinkedIn) and it has a fairly rabid fanbase. But what is Pinterest? How is it different from the other social networking sites we’ve grown comfortable with lately?

To understand Pinterest, you need to think about the internet not as a bunch of ones and zeros (bytes), but as a collection of things (photos, articles, posts, videos, graphics, infographics, PDFs, etc).

Typically, you might spend a lot of time crafting an article that includes a bunch of text, a few images, an infographic, and maybe some links. You think of the article as the unit of transfer – the product produced and distributed. This is a holdover from the previous generation of media (magazines and journals).

But what if the pieces were as valuable as the entire article? For example, let's say you have a set of instructions on how to make something interesting. A headboard, for example. You will write the instructions out and annotate it with a series of instructive photos describing each step. To you, the information, as defined by this collection of text and images, is the thing. Except, the final image is really pretty. It allows people to see the outcome and mentally project it on to their lives (or, in this case, in their bedroom). To them, the final picture is the thing, with a bunch of semi-interesting text and explanatory images along for the ride. The picture of the dessert is far more important that the recipe. The picture of the dress is more important that who makes it (but not who sells it, as many retail brands are finding that Pinterest is a more effective channel for sales that Twitter or Facebook).

Think about it. The information needed to create something isn't as important as the marketing tool wrapped around it. That is the thing that Pinterest trades on. So people see the image and pin it to their board (it's like “Liking” something on Facebook, but allowing the user and their fans to see all the related likes in one place). Beyond that, other users (via searching or via networking) see the image and may choose to like the image as well.

This is Pinterest: A very visual array of ideas grouped by a user to collect inspirations on given topics.

If you're confused by my examples (headboards, desserts, dresses), then you don't know the audience for Pinterest (whether it was the intended audience or not). Depending on the source of information, Pinterest's users are 68-97% female. What is successful on Pinterest is very pretty, very cute, very clever, or very funny. The marketing piece (the final product, the lavishly-designed graphic, the snarky line) trumps the supporting content. If you want your material pinned, you had better have a gorgeous photo or killer infographic.

So what does all this mean to pharma? Based on the meager existing pharma usage of Pinterest, it's very hard to say. Like all social media, the tool is designed to facilitate conversations between people, a conversation that might sound like "I like this thing, and you might, too." Despite the value that pharma brings to people's lives, there isn't much activity on the boards. For example, a search for the enormously popular Viagra leads to seeing three pins: one bottle image, one ad, and one picture of red pills forming a heart. A search for Paxil shows roughly 20 pins, where Paxil is as likely to be used as code for "chill out" as in a professional frame. And searching for Nexium shows far more pins for "natural alternatives" and online pharmacies than anything the industry might consider useful or productive.

From the other side of the fence, Bayer US's Pinterest page (53 pins currently) is filled with advertisements for its business, sustainability, innovation and education initiatives. The only brand shown is for pet med Advantix.

We can see that Pinterest may not be an obvious channel for pharma. It is open (people can comment freely and re-purpose a pharma pin onto a board of any name they choose), it is conversational, and it is very visual. These are traits that do not lend themselves to pharma.

That said, there is a massive community here (mostly younger and female). If we look at the example of NuvaRing (female contraceptive), there aren’t many pins, but almost all of them are serious or informational in tone. Clearly, the audience here understands the value of this product to both themselves and their peers. The question is: will Pinterest become the way women talk to each other about this brand? That remains to be seen.

You can follow ePharma Summit on Pinterest here.

Join James this July at ePharma Summit West, taking place July 17-19, 2012 in San Francisco.  Download the agenda to find out more about the program.  If you register to join us today and mention code XP1756BLOG, you'll save 10% off the standard rate!

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