A Few Observations on the Ever-Changing Landscape of Social Media and Pharma

You may have noticed that I have done my best to observe and track what is going on in pharma and social media from a utilization standpoint.  In December of 2010, I posted another in what has been a series that takes a look at pharma and the use of YouTube. And so far, twice this year, I have posted pharma TWANK pieces – Twitter Rank for pharma twitter feeds.  The first was in early January that was followed by a TWANK Redux posting after the great work done by Dominic Tyer in finding and listing several pharma twitter feeds, which I combined with my own list to create a more comprehensive TWANK overview by mid-February than done in early January.

With that as an introduction, in putting together these lists, some shifting practices are being seen among the use of social media that might be worth pointing out.  A few weeks back, I talked about Pharma and provided some Twitter tips – but that was executional. The following are more strategic observations and touch on more than just Twitter:

  • Social Media is No Longer Distinct from Mainstream Media -Some people are still perceiving these as distinct.  They are distinct media, but they are one communications system.  You can plan a radio campaign and not a TV campaign.  But if you are planning an integrated communications campaign, it means just that – integrated.  Business goals should have communications goals that reflect them and those goals should execute tactics that include social media as part of the overall plan, not a distinct arm.  It seems, to my way of thin
  • Social Media Has Expanded Membership - I don’t mean just the numbers, though as the Pew Internet Project aptly and often demonstrates, the numbers are still on the upswing.  But when social media first emerged, it was very different from mainstream media.  It truly was “citizen’s media” and while it still is, participation in it has been joined not only by institutions and news outlets such as CNN and the New York Times and Forbes, but by important individuals – specifically policy-makers and top reporters.  And not only are more elected officials on Twitter, but there have been an explosion of government sites. And journalists are able to use Twitter to communicate aspects from their reporting that they might not otherwise cover in other media as well as using twitter to drive traffic to their own blogs.  That means that there is an opportunity for relationship building through Twitter, as well as a means to get one’s message out, meaning for those companies not on Twitter, others are filling the vacuum.
  • More Granular, Targeted Communications – This is perhaps one of the most striking observations.  Many pharmas have no twitter feeds at all. However, most of the larger companies do as do a smattering of the smaller companies. However, it is the nature of social media to become more and more granular in its communications – targeting increasingly specific audiences with specific messages. One of the trends apparent in the TWANK posting was that communications from a few companies is, in fact, becoming more granular and more targeted.  It is language-specific, it is product-specific and there are many of them.  For example, Roche has devised German-specific feeds that are focused slowly on singular models of blood sugar meters.  Any company doing that is not only pushing out specific messages, but also is positioned, if so desired, to provide customers with fast customer service as well.  And many companies are using feeds to speak strictly to job prospects.  In short, several companies see social media in general, and twitter in particular, as an opportunity to not try to reach 1,000,000 people with the ultimate goal of reaching the 10,000 people who are important to you, but to reach the 10,000 important people directly.
  • RSS Feeds Are a Must – When it comes to putting out news, the practices by pharmaceutical companies run quite a range – from those who actively disseminate their news to those who almost seem to want to keep it a secret.  Most of the largest pharma companies now operate RSS feeds which put news out in a simple format that allow those of us who are newshounds to pick the news up almost instantly.  (Those who subscribe, for example, to Eye on FDA by RSS Feed get a posting a few minutes after it goes up, those who subscribe by email get the posting the following morning before 9 AM, unless I post by 9 AM.)  Last year, I was pitched by a company by email with an attached press release about a drug approval.  I replied that if it had appeared on my RSS reader, I would have carried the news, but by email, it had frankly become stale.  RSS is, in my mind, essential.  Still many don’t care what I think (amazing) and still send out releases by email, which is the 21st century equivalent of snail mail.  Even further removed, there is at least one large company I can think of that send out press releases by email, but does not provide an electronic link back to the company’s Web site to link to the release.  And at the farthest end of the spectrum are those companies, mainly comprised of small companies with only one product or less on the market, who don’t have RSS feeds and don’t send out their press releases by email.
  • YouTube Doldrums – Pharma’s use of YouTube leaves much to be desired, though there are naturally exceptions and J&J is the most notable.  The JNJ YouTube channel JNJHealth has a wealth of video covering a wide span of topics.  As companies consider YouTube (and it is not clear that many are) the evolving granular nature of social media begs the question whether or not a general type channel is the best fit for today, or whether channels aimed at specific audiences such as disease/condition-specific targets, might not achieve a high level of success.  It is an example of trying to reach the few in the specific target over reaching the many who might not really be interested.

In any case, those are a few observations from a humble industry observer.  In the upcoming months, I will endeavor to provide further insights on developing trends.

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2 Responses to A Few Observations on the Ever-Changing Landscape of Social Media and Pharma

  1. Jeff Greene says:

    Mark great post, with well-considered thinking. (As if to prove your point, I found it through my RSS reader.) It will be interesting to see how the industry adopts this “granular, targeted” communications model, which seems aligned with the kinds of targeted therapies that pharma will increasingly bring to market.

  2. Pingback: What Would it Take to Make a Great Pharma YouTube Channel? | Eye on FDA