Sunset on the ROI of Social Media and Pharma Discussion

While many pharma companies have developed a wide and deep footprint in social media, many others have not.  When exploring the issue of whether or not to involve a brand, there are several questions to consider.  Some are very important considerations – for example – what is your communications goal and will social media help you achieve it?  And another perennial question is – what of the return on investment?  What is to be gained for a pharma brand by being involved in social media?

For those who face those discussions, here are a few considerations that I think might indicate that the days of having the ROI discussion are essentially over.

  1. Participatory Media is Here to Stay – Some considering whether or not to engage in social media will wonder – even still – if social media is here to stay. Whether or not the individual social media platforms that are popular today – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, continue in their current form or maintain their levels of popularity – they stand for something bigger.  Social media is representative of a seismic shift in the way we communicate.  Just as television fundamentally changed the way we communicate by bringing the camera into the equation and eclipsing the spoken word of broadcast radio, social media ushered in an era of participation in communications and the balance of power between the communicator and audience shifted forever in favor of the audience.  We, the audience, can now take your message, comment on it and pass it along in the public discourse of things.  We now participate in communications and we are not likely to give that up.
  2. Social Media is Bigger than Patient Engagement – Many will wonder what value there really is in engaging with patients, their communities and their advocates.  It is doctors, after all, who write the prescriptions.  But, for many categories of drugs, it is the patients who ask for them.  Granted, in areas of medicine that involve high expertise a patient may rely more heavily on their physician.  But for a large range of medications, the patient will engage in conversation with the doctor, make suggestions or even demands for specific medications.  Beyond that, today’s media environment includes journalists – many key ones in the pharma space – who are heavily involved in social media on a daily basis and who have large followings.  Mainstream media has migrated to digital media in general and to social media in particular.  And so have doctors, who are integrating social media into the practice of medicine more and more and for whom social media is increasingly important in medical meeting venues.
  3. Social Media is Now Installed in the Wall – What that means is that social media is no longer something that is added on to a communications set of tools.  It is like the wall socket in the wall.  It is there.  It is part of the structure.  True, whether or not you plug into it or not is up to you.  But the fact that houses are now wired for electricity kind of diminishes the power of the question – what is the return on investment for my using electricity?  Likewise, social media has become part of the fundamental communications infrastructure.  Not utilizing it is an option, but it may not be a competitive one.
  4. Everyone Has Moved OnPerhaps nothing is more symbolic of the way that communications has changed than with the uptake of the smart phone.  Remember when you used your phone to call people?  Now, your phone is probably used as a phone less often than it is used to access the Internet or to use an app to get directions, measure my bike ride or count my calories.  Your phone is an entirely different communications device than it was just a few short years ago.  It has become practically ubiquitous (though I do know people without a smart phone) and we don’t even think about the way that it allows us access to constant communications and very few of us would entertain the discussion – what is the return on investment for using my smart phone?  You just do it.

So, all that is to say that in my opinion, the question on ROI has gone the way of the question of the shape of the planet.  It may still be worth having the discussion if for no other reason than to actually get grounded in your goals and objectives.  But in fact, we have all moved on and we are not turning back.  It is probably as much good to ask what the ROI is on social media in the same way you might ask what the ROI was on your press releases, your web site, or the electronic socket in wall.  In the end, it may not be a question about the return on investment as much as the cost of not doing business.

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4 Responses to Sunset on the ROI of Social Media and Pharma Discussion

  1. In general, I agree – the social media train has left the station. However, I think your conclusion is the key point. It’s not that the “return on investment” is obvious but that social media must now a “cost of doing business.” But does that make the ROI question moot?

    There is certainly a cost of social media, e.g. staffing, training, planning, tools and compliance management and risk mitigation. Perhaps the ROI question should be replaced with “What is the most effective and efficient way to utilize social media in our enterprise?”

    To me asking if we should invest in social media is like asking if we should invest in phone systems for our business (before BYOD, of course). What is the ROI of a phone or is included in the cost of doing business?

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