Social media and corporate influence: tuning in to the opportunity?

Richard Heale

The Thoughtware Group

(Continued from “Social media and corporate influence: the case for a thoughtware shift?”)

“The medium is the message” – a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964 – signifies that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, influencing how the message is perceived.

McLuhan’s view was that a medium can affect the society in which it is used not only by the content it delivers, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.

Has pharma understood this distinction? Does pharma recognize the ‘content’ versus ‘medium’ difference? Does pharma appreciate that the medium, social media, has distinct characteristics that are in tune with our global web society? Has pharma understood that content deployed on a social media platform is subject to the same constraints as any other channel?

Perhaps not!

According to at least one blogosphere pundit, the result of not recognizing this distinction has resulted in pharma being “virtually ring-fenced out of using social media to promote drugs”.

So, while the pharma industry attempts to come to terms with how to harness the power of social media, those companies that are in an often misinformed vanguard could well be raising the psychological barrier that confronts brand decision-makers.

Can pharma make the ‘thoughtware shift’ necessary to embrace social media? Or, is the change management agenda necessary for social media to deliver a strong positive marketing ROI simply a communications opportunity too far?

“Is pharma in the value exchange business and, if not, could it be?”

Social media: a communications medium with a difference

Social media is all about creating relationships.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name three of the many, facilitate networks of people in engaging, communicating and supporting each other. These are some of the fundamental characteristics of social media.

Is pharma inclined or able to embrace these characteristics?

In the social media communications process, stakeholders value the exchange of thoughts, ideas and perspectives. It is that ‘value exchange’ that results in stakeholders re-engaging in the communication and embracing the information, knowledge and even wisdom imparted.

Irrespective of whether a stakeholder is at the forefront of any number of the social media health discussions taking place among physicians, nurses, patients or carers, or being monitored by payers and regulators, value exchange is taking place.

Is pharma in the value exchange business and, if not, could it be?

Or does pharma believe that selling drugs is a value exchange? If so, why do the majority of the population, professionals and laity, not share that view?

Does pharma believe that it can derive enough benefit from social media communication to make the creation of a value exchange worthwhile?

Is it possible that by listening to what others are saying and / or by joining the conversation, pharma could add to the overall value of that communication and be recognized as a respected contributor?

Social media: the legacy of history

Pharma does not set-out on its journey into social media from a promising starting point. As an industry, it is not known for its value exchange credentials.

What an irony! The health and wellbeing industry, and many of the stakeholders in that industry, spend their working hours in the business of creating and delivering a value exchange.

“Is it possible that by listening to what others are saying and / or by joining the conversation, pharma could add to the overall value of that communication and be recognized as a respected contributor?”

The pharma industry makes much of what passes for value exchange in the health and wellbeing industry possible, and yet it appears to struggle to embrace the mores so prevalent in that industry.

Pharma does not appear to be comfortable with the altruism of the health and wellbeing industry.

Therefore, can pharma realistically expect to enter into any value exchange communication in the health and wellbeing industry without being viewed with scepticism? Can pharma turn its marketing psyche 180 degrees from telling to listening and supporting other marketplace stakeholders without an explicit sales maximizing agenda?

Social media: listening, a first strategic step

Out of the confusion of the market for social media monitoring, text mining and text analytics – where outrageous claims abound, under-delivery is the norm and real value delivery is rare – pharma can harness tools that provide real insights from the dialogue between health and wellbeing industry stakeholders.

Text analysis, while still a fledgling discipline, can yield robust answers to the question: “Who is saying what to whom, when, why, how and with what sentiments?”.

There are few, if any, legal constraints on pharma adopting a listening strategy.

This is not part of a defensive brand guardianship strategy. It is not about deciding which social media platform is the most promising one for some traditional, legal marketing and communications.

Social media listening is about understanding how the characteristics of the medium play out in a particular marketplace. It’s about understanding what people are talking about and why, so that one can effectively communicate with them.

“…pharma can harness tools that provide real insights from the dialogue between health and wellbeing industry stakeholders.”

Social media: a final word from McLuhan

McLuhan also created the catch-phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out”, popularized in the 1960s by Timothy Leary, as he advocated the use of psychedelic drugs as a pathway to a type of enlightenment.

Will pharma seek enlightenment by ‘turning on’ to a different type of marketing and communications thinking, ‘tuning in’ to the characteristics of the social media medium, and ‘dropping out’ of a marketing paradigm now well past its use-by date?

I would argue that until pharma comes to terms with the characteristics of the medium, it will continue either to sit on the social media fence or to further alienate its target audience with anti-social media behaviour.

Acknowledgements:

*The author gratefully acknowledges the cartoon contribution to this article of Jock Macneish (Thoughtware Group) and the editorial skills of Oxford PharmaGenesis™ Ltd.

The next article in this series can be viewed here.

About the author:

Richard Heale is President of The Thoughtware Group (www.thinkinginsight.com).

The opinions expressed above are those of the author.

The Thoughtware Group are represented in the European and North American Pharma Marketplaces by Oxford PharmaGenesis™.

See: www.pharmagenesis.com – Tel Chris Thomas (+44 1865 390144), Gordon Muir-Jones (+1 215 497 9699)

Should pharma be tuning in and listening to the conversation with social media?