Last year the buzz in the industry was about social media and its potential for online marketing. Pharma ended up spending nearly $1.2 billion to market online, a figure that is expected to reach $2.2 billion by 2011, according to digital tracking firm eMarketer.
Yet confusion remains as to how to integrate new forms of communication, particularly digital and mobile, into a brand-marketing plan. So If 2008 was about creating awareness that social media exists, then 2009 should be about exploring how to meaningfully engage. And engage in a way that makes the team feel comfortable given the industry's regulatory constraints.
To get you started, here are six safe steps that can be easily integrated into a marketing plan:Track your brand
Since no one has time to pore over all of the sites, and some companies prohibit such visits, select an outside service that will aggregate the information in which you are most interested. Many research companies now offer robust sentiment tracking or blogmining services. Work with your branding or advertising agency to help select the one that best meets your goals.
Know a patient opinion leader
Kerri Morrone Sparling, a POL, is a blogger at Six Until Me, a popular diabetes blog that attracts 50,000 visitors per month. Readers ask Sparling for advice and opinions, and while she is careful to point out that she is not a medical professional, she's known for her candor and her accumulated wisdom as someone who has lived with the disease for 22 years. Sparling believes her audience would welcome a dialogue with a pharmaceutical company.
"Earning the trust of your user base is crucial to the growth of the industry," says Sparling. "If Big Pharma wants to really touch the lives of patients, they need to show us that they care, that my health, and the health of my fellow diabetics, is something their company holds in the highest regard,"
Lisa Emrich, a patient blogger who lives with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, writes Brass and Ivory, a blog that discusses health policy and Big Pharma as it relates to MS.
"I've received emails from the communications department of isolated pharma companies who are developing MS treatments," says Emrich's. "But the purpose is often just to distribute a press release and not actually to develop a mutual relationship." Emrich's message to the industry—"Talk with us, not at us. Engage with participants. Patients will not bite."
All pharmaceutical companies have advisory boards of physician opinion leaders; perhaps now is the time to create ones with patients, too.