Sunday’s New York Times carried a highly interesting and large article called "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" The main gist of the article was that kids today are increasingly leaning on the Internet for reading and that as a result, book reading may have ebbed and that literacy skills might suffer. Though one thing caught my eye in the article and that was the fact that in some countries, educators are going to begin assessing the Digital literacy of students. The article states that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is going to add an electronic reading component in assessment skills of students (the U.S. will not – which is ridiculously short-sighted). And the Educational Testing Service has developed a digital literacy tool called iSkills. I don’t think that literacy should be confused with communications technology skills.
But the article made me think that there should be a similar tool for pharmaceutical companies. There are companies that have opened YouTube channels and other companies that forbid their employees from even accessing YouTube. Some companies have blogs while others are afraid to monitor blog content the way they do media monitoring. Companies may be literate marketers, but they are all over the map when it concerns communications technology skills.
Do you know what a hivemind is? Are you tracking Twitter? Are you still afraid to monitor blogs? Is there a defined digital strategy?
Consider that barriers to clinical trial participation are a serious problem in this country. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are identifiable barriers to clinical trial participation, many of which could be addressed through effective use of YouTube. One of the main barriers has to do with trust – but a collection of YouTube testimonials by patients who have participated in clinical trials could go a long way in building trust. A company could create online communities of such people – complete with a video, a blog or a Website so that there is a black man talking of his experience in a prostate cancer trial, a young gay man talks of his clinical trial participation in an important HIV study, a Latina describes her’s in a breast cancer trial. These vids could be embedded into blogs that people respect and included by links in emails. In other words, information could spread virally and from trusted person to trusted person.
That is just one of myriad of ways that pharmaceutical companies ought to be utilizing digital media.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project in a study released in October 2007, "[f]ully 86% of internet users living with disability or chronic illness have looked online for information about at least one of 17 health topics, compared with 79% of internet users with no chronic conditions. Those with chronic conditions are more likely than other e-patients to report that their online searches affected treatment decisions, their interactions with their doctors, their ability to cope with their condition, and their dieting and fitness regimen.
If you are a company, or if you are a regulatory agency, if you haven’t taken your pulse or assessed your digital IQ, you are already failing. You must assess your current capabilities, manage your assets, and integrate them into a larger strategic communications program.