Pharma social media scan: we’re not in Kansas anymore

Emma D’Arcy

Complete Digital

March is a busy month in the world of pharmaceutical digital marketing, there are two specialist conferences where you hope to swap ideas, and gain insights and inspiration. But often these sessions are a reminder of what we are not doing with social Internet marketing rather than markers for movement forward. It seems only a few do a lot, whereas most stay at the margins of the media. Of the 3 days, 6 workshops, 10 plus presentations and more than 350 of Europe’s most up-to-date digital pioneers, disappointingly the overriding messages failed to excite:

• we are trialling social media with in-house projects

• we are now listening to our stakeholders

• we are starting to enable forum-like postings in our websites (probably from a video campaign)

• we like the iPad for e-detailing

• we are shocked that Patients who post are often highly emotional and expletive!

It is a pretty perfunctory output. Have we made any progression in the 12 months since last year’s event?

 

“…we are still inhibited by being told that digital engagement is too shiny, too new, too uncontrollable, too unregulated.”

 

And the most frustrating of all? The same questions and defeatist statements…

• How long did it take to get regulatory approval?

• We won’t be able to do that in my company

• We’re not ready to do that yet

• I don’t think our doctors / patients / customers want that type of engagement from us.

We are driven by our weaknesses rather than playing to our strengths.

Even when treated to an update from the ever-delicious Manhattan Research studies … More doctors online, more doctors adopting smart phones / mobile technology at an impressive rate etc, we are still inhibited by being told that digital engagement is too shiny, too new, too uncontrollable, too unregulated.

Therein lies the irony. And here’s where I commit a risky polemical hijack of this column … Brace yourselves …

To be fair to both the conference presenters and delegates (and the pharma companies that they serve or represent), it is hardly surprising that creativity is curtailed when the regulators who attend these conferences take pride in upholding a code of practice that was written 40 years ago. Furthermore they steadfastly refuse to recognise that there has been an unprecedented and unpredicted shift in the direction and expectation of patients and doctors about how they receive and interpret information from the pharmaceutical industry. Two years ago, I was invited to a meeting organised by a regulator where I was asked to summarize how medical and patient organisations use social media. My presentation of the facts was met which much consternation and shaking of heads around the room (“these new fangled things … They’ll never catch on…“). Last year, I heard a resolute defence of the same code and the question back to the audience of “Why do you want to use social media anyway when you’re not doing all that you can with the currently acceptable practices?“. This year, I was astonished to endure the same presentation again but this time with a jibe at agencies “don’t believe that because your agency tells you they have called us (a regulator) to check this is ok that it is…“. And also, “don’t be afraid to talk to us about what you can do with social media under the current regulatory code“. Let’s sort this out …

 

“…it is hardly surprising that creativity is curtailed when the regulators who attend these conferences take pride in upholding a code of practice that was written 40 years ago.”

 

1. Agencies are populated by highly ethical and conscientious people who understand the total digital environment

2. We are not afraid of talking with the regulatory authorities about social media uses – we’re bored by the same responses (or lack thereof)

3. Because this is 2011 not 1961 – the code is stuck in the cold war.

I was a participant in one of the most ambitious sections of the conference Programme. Alongside my colleagues we volunteered an experience of the pharmaceutical digital world in 2016 with three ‘truths’:

1. The patient is dead – long live the person

2. The physician is a healthcare broker

3. Pharma works in harmony with ‘Healthcare Ambassadors’

I won’t take liberties nor column inches by prophesying about these in elaborate detail here and what they mean for everyday life – but the common link is that the enabling architecture of social media has already started to bring these predictions to the present.

For example:

1. Sites such as ‘PatientsLikeMe’ have brought groups together, vanquished the misperception that patients will not want to give up confidentiality when infact they will and they have found ways for their voices to be heard with increasing volume that is starting to impact on the direction of research

2. Physicians now research treatments and services from pharma with their patients. Sites like ‘health unlocked’ assimilate unmet patient needs and diagnostic gaps by an empowering provision of tools and measures that patients use when meeting with their doctors to take control of their own health.

 

“…if we don’t have an infrastructure then (as with any mix) there will be outliers who manipulate the meritocracy of the media or accidental errors.”

 

3. Everyday ‘Healthcare Ambassadors’ are out there, writing blogs, lobbying for better outcomes, approaching industry directly and pharma are adapting ‘real world evidence’ alongside clinical trial programmes.

It’s called ‘the real world’

Regulators – please don’t misunderstand me, we need you and we need sensible guidelines on how to use social media as part of the health 2.0 movement, if we don’t have an infrastructure then (as with any mix) there will be outliers who manipulate the meritocracy of the media or accidental errors. We don’t want a situation where in a vacuum of governance the tail starts to wag the dog but just as Dorothy longed for her safe and familiar home where nothing ever changed, she was equally enthralled by the new world and opportunities that lay ahead of her … Regulators, take note … We’re not in Kansas anymore.

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

About the author:

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

How can we release creativity in social media whilst adhering to regulators?