Social Media is here to stay – Pharma needs to join in

“There will be a trend towards using Web 2.0 [in pharma]”, confirms Simon Freedman, Marketing Director at Allergan in the May/June issue of Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe. “We have already seen some spontaneous use of YouTube in some of the disease areas we work in”, he explains.

“It is important not to lose sight of what social media actually entails. “The true meaning of social media unfortunately gets lost in the marketing hyperbole and inflated expectations and promises”, says Jaan Orvet, Communication director at Orbitsville, a social media specialist. According to Orvet, social media is defined by its simplicity and straightforwardness, because at its core are the everyday social interactions that we enjoy in real life. The only difference is that this is driven by technology.

“Note that there is no mention of ‘deploying messages’ or ‘penetrating core groups’ or any other marketing speak in social media. Social media is about conversation, about honesty and about behaving like a person and not a corporation. After all, you don’t buy friends or credibility. Both come with time and commitment,” he adds. The idea is to engage with customers and to participate in meaningful and extended dialogue with them. This requires companies to be upfront, about the good and the bad.

“Allow people to show you what they think. Let them share photos of what a bad rash they get from your product. Or how well the surgery scar healed when they used your cream.” Orvet suggests. “You will be amazed by how many people will appreciate you, and forgive you, if you are honest.” Companies interested in embracing social media may consider creating their own social network from scratch, but it is sometimes more effective to become part of an existig community.

Furthermore, social networking should not just exists outside a company’s walls. Internal relationships can be enhanced by collaborative action and Orvet encourages the development of an intra-company network where staff can share ideas, photos, links to what competition is doing, slogans for new products and so on. “Collaboration is a huge part of social networking,” he says.

Additionally, start a small in-house project with the aim of boosting awareness and familiarity with social media. This could involve starting a wiki – web pages that allow anyone who accesses them to modify content – or launching an online photo competition for staff.

Malcolm Allison, Marketing Director of new products at Actellion Pharmaceuticals foresees three major challenges in the use of social media. Firstly, recent high profile paedophile ‘grooming’ incidents could result in access being severely restricted unless effective self-policing is maintained. Secondly, social media is anarchic, so very difficult to influence… Companies have already been burnt as they tried to make money. Thirdly, social media is fad driven, will evolve very rapidly, with no particular site or engine remaining popular for more than three of four years, making it even harder to use it on the long term.”

A fear of relinquishing control is perhaps the most immediate and common response to the social media movement. The concepts of openess and sharing are not a feature of modern day corporate culture. In response, Orvet stresses that “openess is crucial, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s just different. This comes back to the fact that people already talk about your products and they form opinions based on what others think of your products. If you don’t want to be a part of that, that’s OK. But if your competitor does participate, they will have the upper hand.”

The web will continue to change and evolve.. “Eventually, ‘social’ will be a natural part of the web, in much the same way that no one thinks twice about viewing videos online anymore – yet that was called a ‘short-term craze’ too, as was the whole web in the 1990s”

Excerpt from an article featured in the May/June edition of Pharmaceutical Marketing Europe, written by Selina Denman, mnaging editor at the publishing group of Macus Evans.

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