Last week the bookstore Borders announced that it would be liquidating its remaining stores. On the PBS News Hour, Jeffrey Brown spoke with Slate’s Annie Lowry about the giant chain went from having huge box bookstores to the end of the line. Naturally, there are a lot of factors that figured into the equation – a tough economy being an obvious one. But as made clear in the PBS piece, the truth is that the book business changed a great deal in the past 10 years. The way readers read books has changed (enter e-books); the way we talk about books and get recommendations about books has changed (via Facebook, for example); and of course, the way we even buy books has changed (whisper downloads to my Kindle). In order to remain relevant to its customers, the store needed to change as well. When it didn’t, it didn’t.
What does this have to do with medicine? On the face of it – nothing.
But, as many pharma companies fret over how to deal with the fact that Facebook is no longer going to allow companies to block comments, there is perhaps a lesson in the Borders story that might give us pause. Whether or not you have a Facebook page is no longer the issue. Having the tool in place does not necessarily mean you are being more relevant to your target audience. Borders had a Facebook page. And they had over 800,000 fans liking them.
Unlike people who buy books, patients actually do not buy medications. Even their physicians don’t buy medications. But the patient is the end user and many companies have seen fit, through efforts such as direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, to increase awareness of a medicine, and the company that makes it. But the truth is, fewer and fewer of us watch television, the platform for most DTC. In fact, as far back as 2004, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that one in four Americans got information about prescription drugs on the Internet. Not only do people go onto the Internet to find information about health care choices, they look for people like them, and they listen to them. That has become a relevant fact in the lives of patients today.
This weekend the Washington Post ran a piece about a 7 year-old kid who suffers from epileptic seizures. He needs to raise $13,000 so that he can buy a seizure dog – a dog especially trained to detect on-coming seizures and to alert caregivers when there is a need. So the kid, Evan, wrote a book called “My Seizure Dog” which is now on sale on Amazon.com. His Mom and Dad started a Web site called SeizureTracker.com that they maintain and run on their own as a place where people who suffer seizures and their caregivers can track and monitor their own history, and to get other tools and support.
So you want some guidance on social media? Stop fretting about Facebook comments. As a maker of medicines, the tools you use to communicate are important. But having the tools isn’t enough to make you relevant to your target audiences. Participation is. If I were a maker or researcher of medicines for epileptics, I would be sponsoring sites like those of Evan’s parents. I would be sponsoring books like Evans or better yet, a foundation to help everyone like Evan. And then I would use my social media muscle to publicize the cause they represent and drive traffic back to the sites of people like Evan.
Use social media to be relevant in the lives of patients. That is my social media guidance for Pharma.