pharmaphorum celebrates its first birthday!

Paul Tunnah

pharmaphorum

Well, I can scarcely believe it myself, but pharmaphorum has reached its first birthday!

The last year has certainly flown by, but on August 26th last year the site went live, flagged to a small but select group of my closer friends in the industry to come and have a look, hopefully without uncovering too many teething problems! Thinking back, it may seem a little odd to launch the site just before a weekend (and a long weekend in the UK too) but I wanted some breathing space in case anything needed tweaking.

Fortunately, the launch went very smoothly, marking the climax of a long process that started earlier in the year. The last 18 months, from first inception of the site through to this first birthday have certainly been hard work, but also the most thoroughly enjoyable journey. It’s a journey that I know many others have been through or are going through as the world of social media explodes, but I thought it might be a slightly self indulgent chance to look back at how it all happened.

An idea forms

The first inspiration for pharmaphorum came at the beginning of 2009, at which point I was working for a marketing analytics company, travelling all over Europe meeting executives in different pharmaceutical companies. Two things struck me at the time. Firstly, the challenges being faced by these executives were very similar irrespective of therapeutic area, geographic focus or company. Secondly, there seemed to be no good online place for them to share experiences and discuss solutions. There were, and still are of course, good conferences where such executives would gather to discuss and network, but workloads and budgets were increasingly restricting access to these.

At the same time I had seen the success of social media sites in the true “social” sense of the word. Not only sites such as Facebook and MySpace, but also the multitude of forum sites for different interest and hobby groups outside work, many of which connected people and provided information in a way not imaginable even five years previously.

“The last 18 months, from first inception of the site through to this first birthday have certainly been hard work, but also the most thoroughly enjoyable journey.”

My belief then, as it is now, is that there is a real value and need in the continued development of such channels for business purposes. It is true that there are other industries where the use of social media for business is likely to move at a faster pace due to the heavy regulations imposed on pharma. However, if you consider the benefit of increased discussion and sharing within pharma, leading to more efficient processes and better medicines, I can personally think of no better use for social media within the working world.

So, a few months later I stepped away from the full-time job to give pharmaphorum a go and set about developing the site.

Planning for launch

Anyone who has run a community based website will know that there are two key components involved – having the right technical platform and delivering the right content. To make an anology with football (or soccer to our American friends), you need a whole team of good players to deliver the right content, which as the site develops can become slightly self-fulfilling (one hopes!) as the team attracts more of the right players. However, on the technical side developing a website that looks good and works to allow that community to easily get involved is more akin to a good goalkeeper. It’s rare they will win you the game, but they can easily lose it for you. So it is with designing and coding a website – if you get it right, no-one will notice, but if you get it wrong you’re never going to succeed!

There are a wealth of web designers and developers around, but finding one that has the right skills for your project and works in the right way for you can be difficult. I have been relatively lucky in the people I have worked with, but there are many considerations to take into account. In my experience, those personnel with the right creative and design skills are not necessarily the same people who have deep experience in the nitty-gritty of coding. Ultimately, I knew the website needed to have a professional but informal feel, in addition to being user-friendly, easy to build on for the future and search-engine friendly. What was delivered met these requirements well.

As the website technical development commenced behind the scenes, I realised that it wouldn’t be a very interesting website if I launched it with no content! So the process of reaching out to many of the contacts I had made over the years began, to see if there was interest in publishing an article for launch, or getting involved in some forum discussion shortly afterwards.

“…I realised that it wouldn’t be a very interesting website if I launched it with no content!”

It was encouraging to receive such a positive response from a number of individuals interested to help the site get moving and some good pieces were delivered in time for launch, for which I am eternally grateful. If you want to see which individuals supported me with this early content then just check out the articles from the very end of August and early September 2009. In addition, I reached out a to a number of closer contacts to ask for their support in adding a comment or two to the site upon launch to help generate some discussion. Again, the response was good.

pharmaphorum goes live!

And so, it was one year ago that the big red button was pressed (actually there wasn’t really a big red button but in hindsight that would have been nice) to launch the site. It’s one of those moments where you expect something momentous to happen, the site to flood with people and the server to be overwhelmed with traffic…until you realise people actually need to know it’s there!

The reality for most sites is that, unless you have a six-figure marketing budget, you don’t suddenly get thousands of people charging onto your website. Instead, it is a gradual influx of people who learn about the site and, hopefully, are attracted by some interesting content. True, in today’s world of Facebook and Twitter it is easier to share what you are doing but it’s also hard to make yourself heard above the noise.

However, the site has steadily attracted more and more visitors and if someone had told me when I launched that after only one year there would be several thousand people looking at the site every month I would have been very pleased. Again, anyone running such a site will know that you always want more visitors and things can always seemingly go quicker, but it’s only when you look back that you realise how much has happened.

For me, some of the highlights of the last year include:

– Over 100 articles written by almost as many authors from pharma, biotech and service companies spanning roles in commercial functions, R&amp,D, general management, HR and so on, many of which have triggered some debate.

– Tens of thousands of unique visitors coming to pharmaphorum from well over 100 countries globally (the audience tends to be around 1/3 US, 1/3 UK and 1/3 rest of world including real interest developing in countries such as India and China).

– 300 live events listed on the site and more being added every week (thanks to all my events partners for choosing to work with pharmaphorum).

– Increasing interest in the forum as more and more new faces post and get involved, with new members registering to post comments every week.

When I think about where we could be this time next year, it’s really exciting and it’s great to see so many people getting involved.

But the real highlight of running the site, and what makes all the work so worthwhile for me, is the number of new people it has brought me into contact with across the world of pharma. There have been so many people interested to write something, post a comment, partner with the site, offer some advice or simply help spread the word about its existence.

I’m not going to name any names, as there are far too many to mention, but to all those who have offered their support this far – THANK YOU!

So where next?

pharmaphorum reaching its first birthday is just the beginning and there are lots of exciting plans for the site over the next year.

Clearly, as the site grows and develops it requires more funding to run, so I am now looking to launch some commercial features that will deliver additional value to our readers and help fund new content (it has become hard to balance freelance consulting with running such a site!). If any reader is interested in discussing opportunities then let me know, but watch this space over the next six months.

“…pharmaphorum would be nothing without the article writers, partners, posters and lurkers who enjoy the site, so thanks to all who have got involved.”

However, the raison d’être for pharmaphorum will remain the key driver for all activity – to be a place for pharmaceutical executives to discuss, debate and share ideas to help the industry move forwards (or just interact with their peers to network and have some fun). I want the site to continue to grow as a place for constructive interaction that will benefit those working in pharma. This doesn’t mean we can’t ask difficult questions or raise challenging issues, but there are too many sites simply “bashing” pharma. By and large, it is a meaningful and worthwhile industry that we work in, which, in my experience, is full of people who genuinely believe in doing the best job they can to make a difference for patients.

Finally, to reiterate a point I made earlier, pharmaphorum would be nothing without the article writers, partners, posters and lurkers who enjoy the site, so thanks to all who have got involved. It’s all of you who drive the site forwards, so please don’t be afraid to let me know what could be done better (and lurkers, don’t be afraid to do that first post or comment, no-one bites!), or what features you would like to see – I’m always listening!

I hope you all continue to enjoy pharmaphorum over the next year as much as I have enjoyed seeing it grow to this point, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of pharmaphorum, the exciting new online discussion and networking site for the pharma, medical devices and diagnostics industry. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form.

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