Monday, July 9, 2012

How Social Can Pharma Truly Be?

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

It wasn't that long ago that my mother got all of her email on paper. Once a week, she would check her email, by which she meant she would have my dad log in, delete the junk mail and print out anything that was relevant, interesting, or useful. Then, she would call people back. She was proud to tell people that she was up on new technology like email and would give out her address to anyone who seemed interested. Since most people didn't get a response for almost a week via a completely different medium, eventually everyone learned to just call. This begs the question: was my mother really on email? (is “on” the right preposition? Whatever.) She had an email address, and she got information through it, but wouldn't you say that she was just bending the medium against its inherent... “emailness?” You might cover yourself in feathers, but that doesn’t make you a bird, does it?

 I have a similar (mostly internal) conversation about pharma and social media. We all know that social media is mainstream. Does anyone reading this not have their own personal Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn accounts? I didn't think so. We’re social, and the numbers tell us that pretty much everyone else is, too. When you post to Facebook, have you ever thought about turning off comments? No, of course not. You might think about blocking your brother-in-law because he’s obnoxious and won't stop posting political rants, but you would love it if everyone you knew commented on that photo of yourself, especially if they comment how good you look. In return for comments, you’re more likely to comment on other people’s posts, maybe even share videos of babies giggling or helicopters made of stuffed animals. The funny thing is that you might have done stuff like that even before Facebook. You might have had a blog of great links, a LiveJournal, or maybe you just passed emails around with your friends and family. You were “social” online long before you were on Facebook.

 We can't mistake the platform from the intention. Facebook the “social” platform merely facilitates your intention, which means that simply being on Facebook doesn't mean you are being social – you're just leveraging a social platform. Being on a social platform doesn't mean you’re social. To return t the bird analogy, it just means you're covered in feathers. So many pharma brands are patting themselves on the back by claiming to be social, when they are really just on Facebook, furiously fighting to turn off all the functions and features that make Facebook social.

To pharma, Facebook is just a blogging platform with a lot of unnecessary (and risky) opportunities for people to talk back. However, it is the conversational features that make Facebook social, and what made it popular in the first place. No one wants to get messages from Pepsi and Doritos and the new Batman movie. What they really want is to be social, either with other fans, or to the brand itself. For example, if you “friend” the TV show Archer (it's a cartoon for adults) on Facebook, you will get posts from the character Archer himself. You can reply. You can be social. Now, I appreciate that there are rules and guidelines and all sorts of medical, legal and regulatory concerns that keep you from making your brand more social. Maybe that means you shouldn't be spending all this time and money trying to pretend to be social.

The same resources, if dedicated to smart emailing and texting (tech that’s more than 30 years old, now) would reap far more benefits without having to pretend that your Facebook page’s seventy friends (almost all of whom work for the brand in some form or another) are worth the money it takes to post. It's very possible that pharma brands’ trying to be social is as valuable as attempting to email people without a computer. Sure, you could create email accounts for all of them, allowing you to claim some great innovation, but since your targets can't actually access them, what’ the point? I'm not anti-social. I love social media (my twitter accounts attest to that). But we need to use it right, or else use it not at all. Pretending to be social in the pharma sector is just a great way to spend money. And get covered in feathers.

ePharma Summit West will take place July 17-19, 2012 in San Francisco, CA.  For more information on the event, download the agenda here.  If you'd like to join James, register today and mention code XP1756BLOG to save 10% off the current rate!

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