Social pharma faces: Faisal Ahmed

Rebecca Aris interviews Faisal Ahmed

Life Healthcare

Over the course of our social pharma faces series we have spoken with many people at the forefront of innovation when it comes to digital pharma. But we have to admit there is even more innovation happening beyond the confines of our own industry, much of which carries significant lessons for healthcare.

So pharmaphorum was pleased to catch up with one digital and social media expert who has spent only the minority of his career within the healthcare sector. Faisal Ahmed has already featured on the pages of pharmaphorum with his “Beginner’s guide to digital pharma” series back in early 2011, where he shared some ideas picked up from working at Amazon and developing consumer-focussed online campaigns.

We thought it was high time we heard his direct views on where pharma is heading online. Read on to find out what he has learned from over a decade working in the consumer digital space and where he thinks the digital future of pharma will be.

Interview summary

RA: Thank you for joining me today Faisal. Firstly, what is your background and current focus?

FA: I’ve been involved with the digital scene for about 14 years, starting with various roles at Amazon, then as head of e-commerce for a company that was part of NTL, managing orders and sports rights for over 90 football clubs. After that, I did digital marketing for Playboy for a bit before launching MMO in the UK, which is a multimedia games website for a company called 505 Games. For the last three years I’ve been involved with healthcare, firstly setting up the digital team at Langland, before doing the same thing here at Life Healthcare.


“…social media has been a buzzword for the last six years, but it’s really been around since I first got on the internet.”

RA: How do you define social media, particularly with regards to an industry such as pharma?

FA: It’s so hard as social media has been a buzzword for the last six years, but it’s really been around since I first got on the internet. The old AOL and prodigy websites were all about message boards and chatting to people, one of the cool things back in the 90s, which were probably the first social networks. But social media properly kicked off with Friendster back in 2002, followed by MySpace and, of course, Facebook.

I think it’s evolved into two different concepts. There are the social amplifiers, which are sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, where you’re talking to one person who is connected to many others who can also discover your conversation. Then you have social content sites like Tumblr and Pinterest, which are getting really popular, and these are going to be big in 2012.

As for pharma, it’s mainly being used for PR purposes right now, with a push message rather than interaction. It is evolving, but for me there has only been one standout campaign in pharma social media, which is Psoriasis 360. But it’s a shame no-one has come up with anything to match it as that was launched two years ago.

RA: And how do you see the landscape evolving for digital marketing in pharma?

FA: It’s getting better. When I joined three years ago it was all about trying to educate people around how to do a product or disease website for physicians and consumers, so it was a lot of technical education on websites. Then we entered the phase we are still in, which is about putting your detail onto iPads, the latest trend! As a third phase, there are a few apps which are now coming to fruition. So there is still a lot to do to move on from selling websites towards proper consumer-focussed digital strategies.


“At the moment the industry seems to have its hands tied as there is uncertainty about the regulations…”

RA: So how does pharma need to change to fully embrace social media?

FA: It’s all about education, to be honest. I do a lot of tours of pharma companies and we need to educate people around how best to use social media, plus we need more education from industry organisations like the ABPI around what pharma can and cannot do. At the moment the industry seems to have its hands tied as there is uncertainty about the regulations, but if this is clarified, pharma can think more out-of-the-box.

RA: What are the most common mistakes you see being made in digital within healthcare?

FA: The single biggest mistake is that people don’t think about the end user. As I said, social media is mainly being used for press releases right now. We need to avoid multimedia-mediocrity – let’s talk to people, let’s ask healthcare professionals, nurses and doctors what they really want from us digitally. Let’s embrace their ideas and feedback, because perhaps you would find that a product website might not be the best tool to educate a doctor about your drug!

RA: Everyone is talking about Google+ and comparing it to Facebook, so what opportunities can you see for pharma here?

FA: There are quite a few opportunities. If you can remember, about a year ago we published an article on pharmaphorum about how to use Google+, so hopefully people read it and have started using it a bit more. It is tough for pharma though, because obviously it is an open platform, but it could be a great research tool. However, I’m always dubious about Google going into other products, because if they don’t see any benefit revenue wise, or the ability to scale it up globally, they usually cut the product. So if you’re investing a lot of time in Google+ you’ve always got to think will Google be in it for the long run?


“4G is key and the applications within a smartphone are going to really change how we market…”

RA: What do you think the future of digital marketing looks like?

FA: [Laughs] Digital is everywhere, so there are so many opportunities! At the moment we’re in an age of connectivity where media is out there, so media outlets like the newspapers and TV have embraced digital a lot, they’ve recently switched from analogue to digital. Increasing smartphone usage has also really helped and when 4G kicks in you’re going to have that seamless transition, so your smartphone is going to be 10 times more powerful. So I think 4G is key and the applications within a smartphone are going to really change how we market, how we advertise, and how we interact with people in the future.



About the interviewee:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 14 years, providing digital thought leadership to some of the biggest brands globally, also contributing to some of the best-selling books on digital, having been part of the start-up team at Amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years, Faisal has been working in Healthcare winning over 30 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal is currently working at Life-Healthcare and can be found Tweeting here and contacted on LinkedIn here.

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