By Dorothy Wetzel
“Social media is the last best hope to redo the image of the pharmaceutical industry.” --Jack Barrette, Wego Health at 2009 ePharma conference “
It’s no secret that the American public’s trust of pharmaceutical companies has plummeted in the last 5 years, driven by perceptions of a “profits before people” approach to marketing. The promise of social media is to create an honest, open and ongoing dialogue between pharma and it’s customers. Just look at how Dell transformed its reputation for poor customer service (known as “Dell Hell” in popular blogs) into a thriving community of customers committed to helping Dell optimize its products through a site called Ideastorm.
Like many industries, pharma is jumping on the social media bandwagon (albeit at a slower pace). Important experimentation has occurred. Companies are using Twitter, launching YouTube channels and employing Facebook pages. What will determine the ability of social media to turn around the image of pharma depends on whether social media is employed as simply another channel for traditional messages or whether it provides a new way of interacting with customers.
Take Twitter for example. In some instance it is used as another PR feed, a vehicle for company press releases. The Tweets of more game-changing users have a human voice and display some personality. For example, the BI Twitterfeed is run by a real person who provides commentary and personal reflection on his experiences and actually responds to people who engage him.
YouTube also is used in traditional and game-changing ways. Some have created YouTube channels as a repository for the available corporate philanthropy videos. To be viewed by more than just a hand full of people, videos have to be engaging enough that people feel compelled to pass them along. Some of the earliest pharmaceutical forays – GSK’s “Restless Legs” and Medicis’s “Happy Birthday” understood the entertainment context in which YouTube videos are viewed perfectly.
Pharmaceutical companies are also sitting on a virtual goldmine of credibility builders – the thousands of physicians and scientists they employ. As mentioned in my March 2nd Extrovertic blog post, I believe that physicians and scientists are an underutilized resource in the creation of a public persona for pharma brands.
If your medicine’s personality is warm, sincere or progressive, wouldn’t a warm, sincere or progressive physician or scientist be a good representative of your brand? Astra Zeneca helped pioneer this approach by using one of their physicians to respond on YouTube to the article, “8 Drugs Doctors Would Never Take”
More recently, pharma has gotten into corporate blogging. As with most things in social media, J&J was first on the scene with it’s JNJ BTW. The most recent addition is GSK’s More Than Medicine blog. Both blogs have real people and real voices.
But the real game-changing use of social media will come when pharma changes its focus from acquiring customers to building brand advocates. Because in essence, social media is not about sending messages but about responding, collaborating, inciting and creating shared agendas. It’s not about driving awareness, but driving talk.
If you want people to advocate on your brand’s behalf, you have to give them something to talk about – whether it’s an entertaining video, a tremendous customer experience or a unique point of view on a topic they care passionately about. The types of tactics that accomplish these objectives look very different from 60-second spots or traditional websites.
The marketing department and its activities will have to change too. Currently, so much effort goes into crafting messages that pharma wants consumers to hear. In the future, as much or more effort will have to be put in to responding to and interacting with customers. Just as pharma reconfigured their marketing departments to address the opportunities presented by the advent of Direct to Consumer (DTC) communication, they will have to do the same with social media.
Don’t get me wrong, it is far better for a company to participate in social media than not. It gives the company an important communication platform and can become a stepping-stone to a game-changing way of interacting with customers. The key is to have a vision for where social media can take your company and getting there as fast as possible.
Dorothy Wetzel is the Co-Founding Partner, Extrovertic.comExtrovertic helps clients build brand advocates by strategically infusing social media and other non-traditional communication solutions into the healthcare marketing mix. Extrovertic offers consulting, creative execution and novel social media solutions. Visit extrovertic.com or call Dorothy Wetzel at 917-762-8124.