Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pharma Is About To Have a Google Problem

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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.

If you're reading this post, there’s a good chance it’s because someone mentioned it on Twitter, Tumblr, Quora, Facebook, on another blog. And if you are aware of these kinds of social tools, you're probably already aware of measurement tools like Klout and Kred (I assume Kwality and Kwant are just around the korner). Even if you don't check your Klout score, you’re aware that someone who has a high score is indicated to have a larger and more robust network than someone with a low score.

Yay! So what? Well, what if there was a tool that measured not just the value of a network, but that also determined the value of content depending on the scores of those who wrote it or read it? For example, when someone with a low-scoring network (a "nobody," to use more earthy language) writes a post, it would sink to the bottom of the rankings, unknown and unloved, because that person hasn’t built a robust network for themselves. However, when a higher-ranking person (a "mover and shaker") writes something, many people comment on it and share it. Why? Because being a part of such a high-profile post confers some status on the commenters and sharers. Perhaps even enough to nudge their scores higher.

This new measurement tool concept isn't fantasy, this is something that is about to happen. And it represents a serious shift in the marketing landscape for pharma.

Part of what Google Plus is doing is allowing all authors, bloggers, commenters, posters, commentators and social-network “talking heads” to collect their total body of work in one spot. This spot, called a G+ profile, allows Google to figure out who's writing the best content and give that person a score (much like how PageRank scores web pages based on their connectivity to other pages).

Very soon, Google will start adding a person’s G+ score to its complicated search algorithm as a means to weigh the value of that person’s page. Thus, the page by a "nobody" will move way down in the search rankings compared to one by a “power networker.” In fact, Google's intention is to place a higher value on pages written by authors it can find on G+.

Can you see where this is going? Can you see how someone who has a solid network of fans and friends, who writes a lot and engages in a lot of online conversation, has more clout with Google than a faceless, authorless corporate page? Suddenly, Google has opened the door to someone who doesn't work for your brand to rank very highly in a Google search on your brand. Your brand's top search results are no longer guaranteed to be your page, wikipedia and the NIH. Someone who’s very motivated and connected will have a very good shot at making the top ten (or five!) of your Google search results. And there’s no guarantee the content they’ll be generating about your brand will be positive, or even accurate.

This search-scoring approach is called Google Authorship. It aligns with how Google sees the web. It wants an internet filled with hand-written content, built by people, not corporations. It wants more personal perspectives and fewer "talking points," because it believes that's how we create more authentic content for the world.

How serious is Google about all of this? Well, if it knows that you wrote a post, it will attach your name and picture to that post within its search rankings. That kind of visibility shows where Google is trying to take its idea of authorship. However, if you attach authorship to a company, Google will reject it. For example, if you try to attach authorship to your corporate page, where the avatar is a logo, it won't show up. Google is using facial recognition software to verify that a "person" is being attributed as author.

Right or wrong, Google is a serious part of your marketing plan, and any change it makes is something you need to consider.

But how? In an industry where comma placements involve protracted Medical, Regulatory and Legal discussions, how can we let "regular people" talk about our brand? The fear of AE reporting alone is enough to make a mortal pharma marketer quiver in terror.

Well, one idea is to personalize your brand. Much in the same way Steve Jobs was the face of Apple and Howard Schultz is the face of Starbucks, you can designate someone in your company to be the “face” of the brand. Sadly, the second that person leaves, you're in trouble.

Another idea is to build a G+ page for your brand, and select the caretaker of that page to be the face of the brand. Should they leave, someone else can simply take over the account.

You can ignore Google authorship at your peril, or you can see this development as the sea-change that motivates your brand to get serious about social communication. After all, what's more social than having a “brand face” that people can engage with? The time of playing ostrich is over, folks.

The time to finally figure out how to get our brands engaging socially is now.

Thanks to Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media for doing the legwork on Google Authorship.
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