Social Media Is Not for Advertising Pharma Brands

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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.

Never.

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?

Answer: no.

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:

“Keg Stands.”

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?

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36 Responses to “Social Media Is Not for Advertising Pharma Brands”

  1. tomob November 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    Jonathan:

    This is s great post. Years ago I wrote a similar post that “Communities Don’t Care about Brands”. This is true in Pharma and everywhere else. There is great frustration within the marketing community about the lack of effectiveness of SM as a marketing channel. NEWS FLASH – SM is a channel for us to connect with each other. You are welcome to join the conversation – but if you are just there to sell me something I’m not listening.

    @tomob

    • Jonathan Richman November 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

      Post the link for the post…would love to see it. I’m not sure that social media is an ineffective marketing channel. I believe that it can be a very powerful marketing channel that people actually welcome brand participation if done correctly. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t done correctly so everything seems ineffective. So, is the entire channel ineffective or just way most people are using it?

      • tomob November 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

        Hi Jonathan:

        SM is definitely a marketing channel – but it is a lousy advertising channel. And that is how most marketers treat it.

        Here are my two posts:

        Communities don’t care about brands
        http://tinyurl.com/cyv4ns

        Social Media Madness! build it and they will come . . .
        http://tinyurl.com/685e3x

        Brand participation is welcome – but smart brands will put community motivations ahead of their own – and they will follow the iron rule of SM: be helpful, human and humble.

        @tomob

        Tom O’Brien
        MotiveQuest LLC

  2. Cormac Heron November 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Jonathan:

    Glad you wrote the last paragraph. I was reading this and thinking that SM is more than just Facebook. There are elements of social media that the Pharma industry would be crazy to ignore: wikis,; blogs; forums etc. And tbh I have seen quite a few cases of people talking openly about their ailments on FB from depression to facial surgery so the 6% figure doesn’t surprise me. Not sure it will grow beyond that but as the whole figure grows this 6% will grow with it.

    • Jonathan Richman November 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm #

      If only everyone had the same thought as you. Too often, as I’m sure you are well aware, the words social media and Facebook (for example) are linked as if they are the same thing. The other distinction I should call out it that I don’t see social media as being a place where people are going to unify around a pharma product (like they do with CPG brands on Facebook). So, it’s not going to work the way many marketers would like it to work, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t big, untapped opportunities.

  3. Sherry Reynolds November 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    This isn’t pharma but those of us in health IT often have this conversation.

    Product – Health IT (EHR’s PHRs) for people living with diabetes (or any other chronic condition)
    Objective – Consumer and Patient engagement in their own care using health IT as one tool
    Quick insight about your key customers – very few perceive any value in stand alone PHR’s. Systems like Kaiser or Group Health with integrated patient portals have 56% adoption rates. The challenge is duplicating this in small private doctor offices (not on salary)

    Ideas?

    • Jonathan Richman November 27, 2010 at 1:06 am #

      Okay…thanks for the challenge. Question: is the “target” audience doctors’ offices or individuals. That is, who are you trying to reach with this social media program? The people who would use this system or the doctors who might recommend it. Obviously makes a giant difference, but I wasn’t sure from your comment.

      BTW…this is a really tough item/concept to sell. EHRs and PHRs have been around for a long time and people don’t see the benefit in using them. This is because (as you probably know) it’s a pain to put data into the systems especially if your records are all paper based. However, even when it’s easier (like Kaiser) people still don’t use them. The reason is a simple matter of motivation. They see no value in using them. They see no value because there typically isn’t any. Simply seeing years of your doctor visits, medication history, and vital signs isn’t going to help most people. What they need to see are clear, highly personalized recommendations based on all this data. People can’t do this on their own and the systems out there don’t do this. It’s a future development in healthcare that will shift the entire industry from treatment to prevention (I’m writing a book that has this as a key topic). Further, people don’t see the impact of changes they make. So, for example, if you start running 4 times a week, how does this affect what’s shown in your EHR/PHR? It doesn’t. Even if it were integrated by pulling in data from something like Nike+, systems still can’t show what this exercise does for your overall health and longevity. Until this can be fixed, then EHRs/PHRs will be a novelty to most people.

      • Brendon Smyth November 30, 2010 at 2:32 am #

        Indeed, motivating patients to become active in their care is a challenge. You can lead a horse to water…However, behavioral psychology has shown that there are ways to encourage desired actions, but you can’t apply a one size fits all model.

        There have been some recent studies that have identified different levels of activation that patients fall into. By personalizing the messages to these unique groups, you’re more likely to get them to engage in the desired behavior, but you can’t ask them to do more than they’re ready to. You need to meet them where they’re at.

    • Brendon Smyth November 30, 2010 at 1:55 am #

      Sherry:In response to your call for ideas I wanted to share an online application that’s currently being adopted by cancer clinics in the US (full disclosure: I work for them). Navigating Cancer is a turn-key patient portal specifically for cancer clinics that can be integrated with their existing websites. More than just a PHR, it offers personalized educational resources and care management tools that empower patients to become active participants in their care. In addition, there is a social media component that enables cancer patients to connect with/get support from their friends and family, other cancer patients/survivors and their health care team. You can learn more about how it integrates with clinics here: http://www.navigatingcancer.com/clinics-introThe application is also available to patients who can join directly via the Navigating Cancer website if their clinic has not yet integrated the portal solution.The primary goal is to improve communication between cancer patients and their health care team to improve their care. The more information they provide as to how they’re responding to treatment, the more their doctors know so they can optimize their care. Sorry for the shameless plug!

  4. Nikki November 25, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    Jonathan,
    Bravo! I am an interactive marketer in the health care industry and have been trying to influence my team to stop advertising on social media, but to engage by posting comments to blogs and post content on Wikipedia! For the most part, they aren’t interested because “I just don’t have time for that” or they are scared to death to engage without the approval of the legal team for fear of saying something wrong and being fired as a result. The target audience is dentists and hygenists. The dentists will never be engaged in facebook. I do think LinkedIn has some possibilities though. I understand they will be launching some great new tools in the next couple of months. Great Article!

  5. Varadh November 25, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    So the next best post would be to write about Social Media Tools Other Than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Thats a good exercise and will help. I will try it. I feel all misunderstanding about Social Media happens because people use new age Social Media Tools with old mindset and strategies. Your last but one Paragraph which challenges to create social media tactics without f, t, yt is a way to understand the whole post and may set the ball rolling in understanding the new age strategies.

    • Jonathan Richman November 27, 2010 at 12:49 am #

      Yes, it certainly does take a different mindset than what you might have with “traditional” media. It also does take a bit of creativity. There’s so much more out there than Facebook and Twitter, but that’s what social media means to many people. The reality is that you need to be pretty immersed in social media to know all of the options that are out there. Most folks in the pharma industry (especially those at pharma companies) don’t have the time or expertise in this area. One challenge might be to get people that have no idea about healthcare, but who are in the know on social media and see what they come up with. I guarantee you’ll see some unique approaches. Not everyone will be “legal,” but that’s okay. It’s just ideas. Those ideas could lead to ones that are compliant and are different than anything out there.

  6. Neil Crump November 26, 2010 at 8:05 am #

    Nice post and promotion of brands (advertising) is totally banned in EU anyway. There is plenty of discussion on FB about health within the boundaries of normal behaviour as you describe. Bravo for the challenge to go back to clients with a sm programme without FB, T or YT in it for the first draft. Let’s not forget to add them back in though if they would be good channels for a specific objective – best not to cut your nose off to spite your face.

    • Jonathan Richman November 27, 2010 at 12:52 am #

      Promotion of brands is banned in the EU, but unbranded education programs certainly aren’t (for example: http://www.facebook.com/psoriasis360). I didn’t mean to imply that this advice in the post only applied to “branded” campaigns. I think it applies to any pharma promotion.I will challenge the idea that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (or any one of them) need to be added back. Sure, they might make sense for some specific objectives, but too often they are added in or the main attraction simply because they are the “sexy” place to be. I’m not saying that they never make sense, but they shouldn’t always be the first place you should think of when you’re talking about social media for healthcare.

  7. Stan Bilinski November 28, 2010 at 5:26 am #

    I totally agree social media is not the best channel to increase awareness of a pharma brand but you have not mentioned much about the benefits it can do to increase consideration and advocacy. It can indirectly raise awareness from consumers which I am sure you will agree is more powerful and convincing that coming from the brand directly.

    • Jonathan Richman November 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

      Stan,

      Nowhere in this post did I say that pharma shouldn’t be using social media. In fact, I’ve been an advocate for it and included a couple of examples of what I’d like to start seeing (here are 10 more: http://www.doseofdigital.com/2010/07/10-like-starthear-pharma-social-media/).

      I do agree that having people be advocates for your brand is far more powerful than the brand itself telling you why it’s so special. The vast, vast majority of social media programs (not just in pharma) don’t create advocates. They are just another advertising channels. I’d love to see this happening more (see #7 in the link above), but it’s just not. Of the limited efforts I’ve seen towards this, it’s been encouraging people to join a cause that they don’t really have any connection with, but that’s important to the brand, as in “here’s a cause we’ve found with a tenuous connection to our brand, so you should support it by doing something you really don’t want to.” Those NEVER work and ALWAYS underperform opposite expectations. “Support this cause because it’s important to our brand” isn’t a way to get people involved.

  8. Robn1966 November 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    Hi – really interesting post, that got me thinking a lot. I kinda agree about social platforms not being the right place to advertise pharma brands – as you say, its unlikely that you would share ‘I like Viagra’ to everyone on Facebook.
    However, I do believe that some social platforms can be used 1) simply to provide information to patients, e.g. sharing useful info on Twitter 2) to bring patients together e.g. support communities like ADHD Moms in Facebook.
    I do think social media can play a role in pharma marketing efforts, but think it’s very different to say, Coca Cola setting up a Facebook Page for its fans. I think pharma social media is much more about sharing information in the right way and providing support for patients, rather than popularity tactics such as Liking etc.

    • Jonathan Richman November 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

      While I agree that a platform like Twitter can be used for, as you say, “sharing useful info,” it doesn’t mean that it’s the best option. Who really follows a pharma brand on Twitter so they can get useful info? For all the followers of pharma brands and companies on Twitter, take away all the industry observers like me and you and how many actual patients do you have left? Probably not many at all. My argument isn’t that you can’t use it that way, but that it’s not the best option, such as in this case to disseminate useful information.

      Yes, social media can be used to bring patients together, but why would the do this on a pharma controlled site where they can’t say what they want and the entire process is controlled by the company? ADHD Moms is fine, but there’s no discussion between patients there. It’s not a community by any definition. While the 16k “fans” they have is a nice number, it’s nothing compared to the moms in other ADHD forums online that aren’t affiliated with a pharma company where they can have a real discussion.

      I agree that it should be about providing support for patients, but I’m not sure that a pharma-controlled site is the right place for that. Because of real or perceived regulatory rules, they have to control the conversation. The big exceptions are PKU.com and Children with Diabetes. Unless a pharma site is going to be like this, then people are better off finding support from others in a different venue.

      One last thing, Liking isn’t a “popularity tactic” as you mention. It’s a powerful piece of advocacy and social sharing. The goal isn’t to see how many Likes you can get, but rather looking at each Like as someone feeling some connection with that bit of content that they felt compelled to share it with all of their friends. That’s a fairly strong piece of advocacy. If you have Like buttons and no one ever clicks them, it should tell you something about your content. It’s not important or compelling enough for people to really care about it. Look at it a different way. You can use the verb “Recommend” instead of “Like” in the button. Does that change your perspective? Think of someone recommending your content or brand to all of their friends…that’s a lot different than a popularity contest. Check out my detailed post on this issue for some more: http://www.doseofdigital.com/2010/11/get-like-button-facebook/

  9. Ian Orekondy November 29, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    Thanks for another great post Jon. I’ll step up to the plate on your challenge:

    Product Category: any Oncology treatment or test
    Objective: promote new patient education materials to physicians and patients
    Insight:
    - Thousands of people (both Oncs and patients) follow Oncology-related twitter accounts, including Oncologist MDs who tweet, and credible Oncology journal publications
    - both Oncs and Patients are actively engaging, sharing information on Twitter (this AM alone, 6 patients tweeted that they were going to see their Oncologist today)

    Insight Data Sources:
    http://twitter.com/#!/search/oncologist
    http://twitter.com/#!/cancergist/oncologists http://wefollow.com/twitter/oncology/followers
    http://journals.lww.com/oncology-times/Fulltext/2010/01100/Oncologists_Using_Twitter_to_Advance_Cancer.3.aspx

    Would love your idea(s).

    Thanks,
    Ian

    • Jonathan Richman December 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

      I’ll be writing a post that will include responses for all of the challenges that people posted. I didn’t expect this many, so stay tuned.

  10. Brendon Smyth November 30, 2010 at 1:53 am #

    Sherry:

    In response to your call for ideas I wanted to share an online application that’s currently being adopted by cancer clinics in the US (full disclosure: I work for them).

    Navigating Cancer is a turn-key patient portal specifically for cancer clinics that can be integrated with their existing websites. More than just a PHR, it offers personalized educational resources and care management tools that empower patients to become active participants in their care.

    In addition, there is a social media component that enables cancer patients to connect with/get support from their friends and family, other cancer patients/survivors and their health care team.

    You can learn more about how it integrates with clinics here: http://www.navigatingcancer.com/clinics-intro

    The application is also available to patients who can join directly via the Navigating Cancer website if their clinic has not yet integrated the portal solution.

    The primary goal is to improve communication between cancer patients and their health care team to improve their care. The more information they provide as to how they’re responding to treatment, the more their doctors know so they can optimize their care. The challenge, as Jonathan noted below, is how to activate patients once they’re on board to become engaged in their care.

  11. MT_Guest November 30, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    Thanks so much for a great post. Would love to take your challenge.
    The product: a new, revolutionary treatment for Hepatitis C.
    The patients: a disparate group, made up mainly from former IV drug users usually from lower socioeconomic classes, those who received blood transfusions before 1990′s blood screening efforts, those contracting the virus from tattoo needles, and to a lesser extent those with many sexual partners. The virus is generally asymptomatic, so patients do not experience the burden on a daily basis.
    The challenge is 3 fold: 1) How to conect with this disparate group of customers, a lot of whom are not very educated, especially about health care and the virus, may have mental health issues 2) Drug itself is a 3-rd add on to an already difficult to take regimen (think like chemo), is dosed three times a day, adds its own side effetcs (have evaluated side effect management and adherence options). and 3) How to do this in Europe with virtually no ability to speak in an unbranded way (unbranded connections are great too, just pointing out the limitation).
    Would love your thoughts.

    • Jonathan Richman December 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

      I’ll be writing a post that will include responses for all of the challenges that people posted. I didn’t expect this many, so stay tuned.

  12. Jonathan Richman December 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    I’ll be writing a post that will include responses for all of the challenges that people posted. I didn’t expect this many, so stay tuned.

  13. Alleigh Marré December 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm #

    I disagree.

    Social Media is a challenge that the the Pharma industry will need address head on. Because something is different and challenging doesn’t mean that an entire industry should run with its tail between its legs. I’m excited and interested to see how the healthcare industry is going to adapt to such a dynamic community. You’ve written a great post, backed up by thorough research…but in the end, Healthcare is going to have to go where the audience is.

    But who am I to disagree? Just a lowly PR pro hoping that Healthcare will innovate and adapt.

    While I may disagree, I bet Clifford Stoll is in your camp: http://www.newsweek.com/1995/02/26/the-internet-bah.html

    • Jonathan Richman December 1, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

      I’m not sure we totally disagree. I too believe Pharma has to be in social media in some way, but promoting their brands the same way they use DTC TV isn’t the answer. That’s what is happening now. People don’t go to Facebook to learn about drugs and healthcare…and they shouldn’t. There are far better sources and it’s not a natural fit. You don’t mix chatting with friends with intimate questions about your irritable bowel syndrome.

      There are other places besides Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that are far more social and health-focused. I gave the MedHelp example in my post. Very social and also not advertising. That’s the sort of thing Pharma should be doing if they really hope to connect with people via social media.

  14. Kevin Nalts January 6, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    A confident post. Its strength in voice tempted me to argue, but then I decided most of my issues weren’t challenging the spirit of your message, but incidentals. Occasionally the pendulum swings far to one direction, and someone has to bring it back. To play the sober driver. I like to thing there are many ways Rx firms can connect with patients via most digital mediums, but it’s like the old adage goes: “we don’t want a relationship with Tylenol, we just want our headache to go away.” Social presence by pharma can help with search, and can be done in an unbranded/educational manner. But ultimately the problem is “ROT.” My acronym for “return on time” (a realistic scarcity in brand teams). It’s not yet proven to be worth the extensive time/effort to get something approved… if approved.

  15. Gwen January 19, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I HOPE more and more people start to wake up and walk out from the crazy fog of the of social media whirlwind. As an eMarketer who’s worked on both the client and agency side, it’s been almost scary how enamored with all things social media people have become without really understanding what it is or how to apply it (if at all) and when. Social medial IS a tool for patients and physicians to create community and to talk to each other. THAT is what’s social about social. For people who aren’t mobile or their health issues limit their interactions, or don’t have access to support groups, etc ‘places’ like FB and various community sites offer them the support, opportunity to connect and share that they need.HCPs can share cases & information that presumably leads to better outcomes for patients, etc. Regulations & internal policies typcially prohibit/limit pharma from sponsoring any of these ‘places’ – maybe that’s something that could be addressed, at least spend the money in places where it’s worth while, and where you could learn things that could inform what needs to be communicated. Social media has become a huge, unecessary distraction and people are forgetting the basics; we’re trying to communicate, we’re trying to understand what people need and provide it, in a way/via a channel they’re receptive to, is convenient, and for ROI sake, measureable. FB and Twitter are just channels, and they’re not always appropriate and they aren’t a required part of the mix.

  16. Olivier S Chaeau March 11, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    Hi John- You posted this article 15 months ago- Do you really still think that Facebook is not (or will not) play a major part on brand image, perception and more… A recent study from the national research corporation has shown that 41% of american who go online for health information use Facebook. That is far, very far, from 6% mentioned above. That said I agree that FB is not a place to advertise for pharma brand or company but rather a place to engage with patients.

    • Jonathan Richman March 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm #

      A place for pharma to advertise…no…and no change in my opinion. Engage
      with patients…maybe…but still a stretch. There’s still one big stumbling
      block here. People don’t trust pharma companies. So, regardless of whether
      people go to Facebook for healthcare information, they aren’t going to look
      for it from “big pharma.” They don’t now, which is why they don’t visit
      pharma brand websites very often. Having said that, I don’t believe for a
      second that people go on Facebook to look for answers to their healthcare
      questions. They don’t make decisions based on what they read their for sure.
      I’ve read all the research and all the studies and some ambiguity in the
      questions explain the numbers. People do not go to Facebook to conduct in
      depth healthcare research. My proof? Because their is none. Show me any
      information of the caliber of what you find on a MayoClinic.com or WebMD.
      You won’t find it. So, maybe you go there once to look for things (and only
      because you’re already there), but you don’t a second time.

  17. Anonymous June 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Brilliant. 

    I am currently wrestling with the whole pharma/social media issue, except I’ve got a third component to deal with. I work for a digital ad agency that REPRESENTS numerous pharma brands, so not only are we working on our own social media strategies, but we are also faced with our pharma clients’ desires to “hop on the social media bandwagon.”And it’s a touchy issue for us. Because, well, you said it best:

    “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.”

    But clients don’t want to hear that social media just doesn’t work for their industry. They want to do what Pringles and Coca-Cola and Starbucks and Apple are doing. (Wahh!) But this is understandable — being told that you “can’t” do something that other companies/brands are doing triggers the “left out/I should be doing more” feeling. 

    So the part of your article that I thought was “extra-brilliant” was this: 

    “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.”

    And: 

    “…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.”

    So, if I’m interpreting your article correctly, pharma brands can still “do” social media without inefficiently clinging to the Facebook-Twitter-YouTube trifecta.

    ***But besides answering questions on forums like MedHelp, what else would you suggest to pharma companies that want to social media-tize themselves?***

    Thanks for this article; I love that it preaches the truth and doesn’t try to make pharma marketing something it shouldn’t (and can’t) be. 
    –Lisa

  18. Liz S August 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    This post would have been much clearer and stronger had you started with what you mean by “advertising” versus “engage.” Consequently, it’s misleading and hardly accurate, at least in terms of what SM is for. SM was never meant to advertise and as someone who works with a brand who has a presence on FB, I can tell you that it’s always been and always will be about engagement. I applaud you for getting so much traction on this post but from an objective point of view, I’d hardly call it brilliant or insightful. 

    • Jonathan Richman August 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

      Fair comment…for the record, I don’t think I ever said it was brilliant, but I do think there are some insights in here that people could learn from.

      True, social media was never meant for advertising (as you said) and it is “always about engagement” (again, as you said). I agree with you on both accounts. However, this isn’t how most pharma companies view social media. Most see it as yet another broadcast channel and, in fact, aren’t interested in engagement. This is evident in most companies’ desire to have comments turned off on their Facebook Pages.

      Engagement is critical to social media, which is part of my point in the post, but the reality is that most companies don’t use it that way (especially in pharma). So, if the insights in my post were obvious to you, then you’re way ahead of most people.

  19. jas_cinammonagency September 13, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    While social media is not the be all and end all, there is a place in marketing budgets of healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.

    Whether they treat it as a help or just an occasional tool, it can be used. Just sparingly, but use it anyway – otherwise you’ll be missing out and getting left behind.