I’m hoping that once and for all this post is going to set people straight and get everyone thinking just a bit more clearly and rationally. Today’s post, like it seems many of my recent posts, focuses on social media. But unlike a lot of posts you’ll read out there, you’re not going to find a giant advocate for the use of social media in pharma and healthcare here. You’ve come to the wrong place if that’s what you’re looking for. I’ve tried to have this discussion before when I wrote Crushing Pharma’s Marketing Dreams and 10 Things I’m Tired of Hearing About Pharma Social Media. Despite those being some of my most read posts, the message didn’t quite sink in for everyone. I’ll explain in a little more detail, but here’s the gist of the message I want you to hear today:
Social media will NEVER be an effective place for you to advertise your pharma brand.
Period. Full stop. End of sentences.
Not now, not after “the guidelines” from FDA, not when social media is “mainstream.” Never.
Crazy, eh? Keep reading.
A recent study that I read made me realize that I’ve got a little more work to do to get this message out. This was actually a well done study with reasonable conclusions, so I’m not in any way disagreeing with the findings. What I am baffled by is why people, including the authors, are so baffled by the results. You can read the high level details of the study from Accenture here, but the bottom line is this: people don’t get their healthcare information from social media including Facebook. In fact, Facebook was the last place they went online to get healthcare information. Unfortunately, the data in their press release is pretty light, but John Mack of the Pharma Marketing Blog managed to get some more details and created this chart with the details (thanks, John). Of note, the logos here are only examples, not the only site. That is, WebMD wasn’t visited 48% of the time, that’s just an example of the type of sites in the “Medical Website” bucket.
[Chart courtesy of Pharma Marketing Blog]
My initial response upon reading this was “of course,” but after looking at the reactions of some industry pundits (like me, I suppose) who couldn’t quite figure out how this could be possible, I realized that I was in the minority. To me, and few others, this should have been a pretty obvious finding, but it wasn’t as obvious to others. You see, social media is THE thing to talk about these days. There are about 957 conferences about pharma social media (with a new one each week that vows it’ll be different from all the others). There are stacks of articles and servers full of articles extolling the virtues of social media in pharma. Stop me if you’ve heard these proclamations about pharma social media:
First, there are the declarations of what it is:
“It’s the future.”
“It’s where your customers spend their time online.”
“It’s a way for you to connect one on one with people.”
“It’s what people are demanding and expecting now.”
“It’s going to change the way we market our products.”
“It’s the biggest change in pharma marketing since [insert tactic like DTC TV here].”
Then the almost indignant exclamations about what you need to be doing with it:
“You’ve got to be on [insert social media platform here].”
“You’ve got to be monitoring everything people are saying about your brand.”
“You’ve got to create a presence so people can talk with you online.”
“You’ve got to develop a social media strategy.”
Any of these sound familiar?
Please stop me.
Once again, today’s message is: Social media will NEVER be an effective place for you to advertise your pharma brand.
Let me explain why. For the sake of the rest of this post, I want you to forget that you are a marketer. Definitely forget that you’re involved in the healthcare industry as well. You’re just you…a regular person. I ask you to do this, so that you can objectively evaluate my argument. More on that in a minute.
Let’s get back to that study from Accenture. It tells us that only 6% of people get their healthcare information on sites like Facebook. The average reaction to this finding that I’ve witnessed is what I’d call complete disagreement with that finding. However, the disagreement seems to me to be in the wrong direction. You shouldn’t look at that number and be shocked that it’s too low. You should be amazed that it’s that high.
Let’s think about it for a minute. First, where on Facebook are you going to get information that is in any way comprehensive about any healthcare condition? I’m not knocking Facebook, but that’s simply not what it’s good at. It’s likely not ever going to be good at that. It’s not a giant content repository. Instead, it’s supposed to show you where to find content based on what you like and what your friends believe you might like.
“Okay,” you say, “then explain why Pringles has 7 million ‘Fans’. People are going there to connect with the brand.”
Yes, they are and that’s sort of my point. They’re going there to connect with the brand. They connect with Pringles because they want to show some affiliation with the brand and they’re willing to share that with their friends. The question for you, pharma marketer, is simple: Is anyone going to Facebook to broadcast any affiliation or connection with your brand?
It’s “no” not because of anything you did, but rather just basic human behavior. Remember when I asked you to forget that you’re a marketer or have anything to do with a pharma company for the sake of this post? Do that now.
Okay. Under what circumstance do you see yourself broadcasting via a status update or Wall post on Facebook that you are taking a specific drug? Would you do that? Honestly?
Likely the answer is “no” and it should be. This holds true whether it’s a drug for toenail fungus, high blood pressure, birth control, or anything else. Even if it’s a drug that’s associated with a medical condition you’ve openly shared details about on Facebook, you still aren’t likely to broadcast any affiliation with the drug. For example, if you updated everyone on your battle with breast cancer, you likely aren’t going to tell everyone how wonderful one of your chemo drugs is.
The answer is “no” for two simple reasons. First, we as a society are nowhere near willing to divulge our healthcare information publicly. It’s treated almost more securely than our financial information. So, the notion that people are ready or willing to share this doesn’t fit with current behavior. Again, to you, I ask: are you sharing your medical information publicly with anyone? The reason why you aren’t sharing is actually the second reason. You aren’t sharing because there’s no reason to share it. What possible benefit would you receive? Today, the answer is nothing. Compare this to when you share your financial information with Mint, you get detailed analyses, comparisons to others, and money-saving offers. There’s nothing like this in healthcare. When you share how much you like Pringles or give a few sentences worth of a review on a new restaurant, you actually get something from this too. It’s called “social capital.” It’s recognition and appreciation from friends that makes you a valuable source of information to them and everyone wants to be seen as valuable. That “social capital” model doesn’t work when you’re talking about broadcasting your medications on Facebook.
Again, let me summarize: Facebook is not a place for people to discuss medical issues. It never will be. Period.
Another analogy might help. Recently, Jeff Weiner the CEO of Linkedin was asked what the difference was between Linkedin and Facebook. The context was simple: how can Linkedin continue to exist as Facebook gets more massive? His answer to what’s different about the two was as brilliant as it was simple. It was this:
Yep, keg stands. For those not familiar, that’s where you do a handstand on a keg of beer while drinking as much as you can before either passing out, falling over, or having some internal organ reject said beer. There’s a handy detailed guide on a site called “College Tips.”
Back to Jeff…he went on to explain that Facebook is where you share pictures and stories of things you did that involved beer. Linkedin is not. Linkedin is where you share your professional achievements and talk about serious work “stuff.” Facebook is where you post pictures extolling your college drinking prowess and your risqué Halloween costume pictures. They each have a purpose and they are both needed. Send your friends to Facebook to find out about you. Send potential employers and clients to Linkedin and hope the two never meet. It would be hard to do both things well with only one platform. Makes sense, right?
So, why are we asking Facebook to be a place for healthcare information?
What’s the Linkedin for healthcare? I’m not totally sure except to say that it’s not Facebook. And whatever that is, that’s where you should be.
One other point about the study from Accenture that I take a bit of issue with are the reasons why people turn to pharma websites for information about medical conditions so infrequently. The number is 11%. Just 11% of the time people go to a pharma company site for information about a medical condition. I don’t take issue with this number (again, I”m actually a bit surprised to hear it’s this high). I have a problem with this statement:
“According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents expect pharmaceutical companies to provide information about the medical condition or illness for which they are taking drugs. To address that expectation, Accenture believes pharmaceutical companies must not only provide the right information, but upgrade their websites to create a more dynamic, interactive experience, demonstrate an understanding of their patients’ needs, provide holistic solutions and clearly reinforce their brand identity in a two-way dialogue.”
I’m bothered a bit by the recommendation, not the 69%. While I think this recommendation is a sound one, and as someone who works at a digital agency that does this sort of work, I don’t think this is really the problem. The number one reason why people don’t go to pharma websites for medical condition information is perfectly simple: they can’t find them.
Simple as that. Here’s the scenario. Someone needs information about high cholesterol because they just found out that their levels are too high. What does that person do to find information about high cholesterol online?
That’s right: Google.
And what happens when you search Google for “high cholesterol” (click here to try it for yourself)? The first three organic (i.e., non-paid) listings are all sites that you would classify into the “Medical Website” category: WebMD, eMedicineHealth.com, and MayoClinic.com. Next question: how many pages of results would someone have to look through before they found a pharma-owned site? Answer: 10. On page 10 of the search results for “high cholesterol” on Google, you’ll find a listing for Zetia.com. Lipitor.com, the site for the world’s top selling drug, which not coincidentally happens to be a treatment for high cholesterol, can be found on page 13 of the results. Crestor.com, the site for another top drug in this category, is on page 16.
So, back to our scenario where someone just searched for “high cholesterol” on Google. Do you think that this person EVER gets to page 10 (or 13 or 16)? No. Never. And when this person needs to research high cholesterol do you think he starts by searching for the condition by saying, “Gosh, I think I really need some Lipitor for this, so I’m going to go there to get information about high cholesterol.” Again, no. Never. That’s just not how people work.
The same thing can be applied to Facebook and other social media sites. When I give you the assignment to research a medical condition, you never head to a site like Facebook to do that research. It’s because of this that I feel confident in my statement: Social media will NEVER be an effective place for you to advertise your pharma brand.
Now, time for a caveat or two. I should clarify that it will never be a place to directly promote your brand in any fashion that resembles broadcast platforms like TV or print. So, a Facebook Fan page for your pharma brand will never be an effective way to drive awareness, trial, or repeat usage. Instead, you need to consider social media as a means to an end. That is, as another tool you have at your disposal. You cannot use it to directly promote your brand (technically, you can, but it won’t work), but you can use it for other purposes.
How about visiting a medical forum like MedHelp and answering questions about your drug? That’s social media, right? It’s not as sexy as Facebook, but most likely it’s going to help more people. The question is whether or not this contradicts my statement that social media will NEVER be an effective place for you to advertise your pharma brand. I don’t think that it does because I don’t really see answering questions in a forum like this as “advertising.” Yes, it will help brand sales over the long run, but it’s different than advertising, which to me always means broadcast with no interaction. (And, yes, there’s a way to do this example without running afoul of FDA rules.)
Let me put it another way…try this assignment (which is an actual one I gave to a team here at Bridge Worldwide recently): develop some social media tactics for any of your brands, but you are not allowed to say the words Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Not only can you not say them, but you can’t use them for any of your tactics either. Does that mean that you can’t come up with something that’s social media related? If you answered “yes” to that question, then you’re not thinking about social media. You’re just thinking about advertising. You can use social media to reach your brand objectives (yes, including increasing sales), but you need to think beyond Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. If you find yourself sitting down to come up with ideas and every one of them involves one of these three platforms, get some outside help. If your outside help brings you ideas that only involve these three platforms, get some different help (like by contacting me). I guarantee that you can create social media-based tactics to deliver your brand objectives for ANY brand that are effective and regulatory compliant and do not involve Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter.
As a demonstration of this (and to thank you for reading this far), feel free to leave a comment with the product (or just the category if you want a bit of anonymity), the objective you’re trying to attain, and a quick insight about your key customers and I’ll give you an idea. Who’s up for the challenge?