Pharma social media scan: the digital farrago

Emma D’Arcy

Complete Digital

Welcome to my first column for pharmaphorum – where I’m looking forward to asserting an ‘erstwhile-expert’ view on the digital developments in pharma – and the people behind, in front of and alongside them. I use the term expert in as loose a manner as possible given that more than 200 digital products and services are launched each year so perhaps the best claim one can make in this field is that you are just about keeping-up with the digital-Jones’, and that’s what I hope to be able to help you to do. I’m also determined not to irritate you with jargon, exaggeration nor technical dissections. If I stray off this ‘direct digital’ course do feel free to remind me that I promised simplicity – does it/doesn’t it work for us common users.


“…the best claim one can make in this field is that you are just about keeping-up with the digital-Jones’…”

Interestingly, as I set out the stall for the column it seems so too is pharma. Last year Meredith Abreu-Ressi at Manhattan Research said something that stuck firmly in my mind – “we won’t be in this regulatory purgatory forever…” and for the most of 2010 I stole this highly erudite observation because it neatly vanquished the ‘but we can’t do social media’ excuse that pharma had hung its hat on for so long. In countless meetings, discussions and lamentations with many members of the digeratti (notably a big whinge with Andrew Spong and Alex Butler at the #medcomms forum meeting in September) we all kept saying that perhaps we shouldn’t ask what our regulations could do for us – but what we could do for our regulations.

And I’m pleased to report that that’s where we now find ourselves.

The silence has been broken. 2011 seems to have been appointed the year that pharma finally finds its voice about using its voice. No more hoarse hiding behind the regulatory purgatory excuse nor blaming a lack of interactivity on legal. No – internal innovation is catching up with external desires and in the past month we’ve heard several companies declaring their digital intent. Pfizer stated their right to socialise, AstraZeneca released a White Paper about it and we witnessed Merck Serono’s ‘Unite MS’ site launch (another noble project in their burgeoning dominance in the area of multiple sclerosis). Sanofi also laid down a big social media diabetes footprint with its facebook page, twitter feed for diabetes patients, the Diabetes Discuss blog, the extension of the site and several ‘GoMeals’ apps – all part of their ‘becoming 360 total partners’ in diabetes care.

It seems that sites for the sick are the new ‘sick’ (to use the youth vernacular). Which makes me wonder – now that pharma companies have found a way to legally listen, what will be their actual response to the voices that they hear? The ears are open but are the egos ready? By that I mean how will pharma react to the pulsating opinions and expectations that arise from opening up the doors and welcoming patients in? The Unite MS site aims to “enable patients to share experiences with fellow sufferers, consult experts and contribute to blogs” and I am quite sure it will serve strong purpose, but any pharma company has to consider what would motivate a patient to bump a favoured existing site for theirs. Because sometimes the cacophony of comments is overwhelming but more so is the deafening roar of silence. Pharma set up these sites with great expectations … but trust and a willingness to engage from the public/HCPs/your target members doesn’t just accompany the ‘real estate’. This might be the first lesson to be learned from this flurry of launches.


“…now that pharma companies have found a way to legally listen, what will be their actual response to the voices that they hear?”

It is always fascinating when ‘overnight successes’ go on to reveal the years of slog that have underpinned their present popularity. Perhaps these very-welcome and overt approaches to social media and the frequency with which companies are seeking to own therapy areas with a meld of portals, people and projects need to prepare themselves for the everyday grind and commitment that truly builds confidence through communities.

I hope you enjoy the column.


Gold – to Sanofi-aventis for actions that speak louder than words

The good: Sanofi has seriously shifted into social media gear with blogs, sites and partnerships.

The great: the approach “…an organization aimed at health, not just treatment…”

The gruesome: fewer than 1000 ‘likes’, even fewer ‘followers’ – it may take longer than it thinks.

Silver – AZ makes it sound EZ

The good: being bold – “Social media is a fundamental part of advancing public health.”

The great: being brave – “Pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to engage more fully in social media.”

The gruesome: Its facebook page (Take on Depression) has come in for some serious bashing by a key pharma blogger for being prepared by an advertising company and stirred up a hornet’s nest about agency involvement in pharma social media.

Bronze – Pfizer is everywhere

The good: the positivity — “Proud to be active and responsive on all major social networking platforms.”

The great: Pfizer’s ‘Think Science Now’ blog elevates the company from being perceived as pursuers of profit to being recognised as key contributors to medical science milestones

The gruesome: actually stating that “Pfizer is everywhere”. Not so keen on that.

Emma is back with the next ‘Pharma social media scan’ at the end of March.

About the author:

Emma D’Arcy is a Senior Consult (Physician and Patient Channels) at Complete Digital. For more information please visit

What are your highlights in pharma social media?