But what weaves those categories together—and what blogs are really about—are reader involvement and relevance, which the
more traditional media can't offer.
It's clear that pharma marketers are trying to understand how to monitor, publish, and advertise on blogs to take advantage
of their power and popularity. Similar to chat rooms and discussion groups, blogs are an excellent source of business intelligence
that allow companies to see what patients are saying about the brand and competitors' products. Look to blog-smart search
engines such as Technorati (
http://www.technorati.com/) or DayPop (
http://www.daypop.com/) to find the ones that apply to your business. The traditional monitoring services, such as Burrelle's, also track a few
blogs, and they are currently ramping up software to monitor more of that space.
Publishing a blog can be another promotional tool in pharma's media mix. Eli Lilly and Icos, for example, publish the Cialis
Blog. Located at
http://www.cialisblog.com/ ,it offers news about the popular drug, as well as disease information. Although its purpose is not fully clear, the blog
represents experimentation with the medium. As is the case with websites, companies should be certain to secure blog addresses
that contain brand names. Otherwise, they leave those domains open for other bloggers, such as the unauthorized
Companies may also want to consider hosting a private, password-protected internal blog—a next generation intranet—as an effective
two-way communications channel for employees. But in any case, for any pharma-sponsored blog, it's critical that companies
formulate publishing guidelines in order to prevent the release of any information it wants to remain confidential.
Advertising on blogs is another strategy worth considering. Many blogs, especially topical ones, accept text and banner ads
and sponsorships, and they can be an excellent way to reach highly targeted audiences.
Despite the potential upside, getting involved with blogs still represents a sizeable risk for pharma companies.
On the publishing side, one concern is that the public will view a pharma-sponsored blog as too gimmicky and lacking in content
that users truly value. Another concern is the frequency of updating. Given the industry's notoriously long legal reviews,
companies should not delve into the arena without a plan to expedite and refresh topical postings to sustain visitors' interest.
Even advertising on or sponsoring blogs requires careful consideration. What do companies do if users post comments about
negative side effects or worse, patient deaths? Considering pharma's obligation to report adverse events to FDA, such a tactic
should not be undertaken without a frank discussion by regulatory, legal, and marketing departments. One lesser concern is
that due to blogs' lack of professional editorial oversight, companies may not be able to control ad placement; as a result,
their ad could wind up on a page that contains messages detrimental to one of their brands.
Marketers should also note that women, those highly coveted healthcare decision makers, are not the core audience of bloggers.
According to the Pew Internet Organization's February 2004 study, blogs appeal mostly to teens and men 18-34. More women will log on as blogging grows in popularity—but it's likely that their interest in blogs will revolve around
major life concerns such as pregnancy and child rearing rather than branded medications.
As a medium for pharma marketers, blogging's potential may be limited. Done badly, it can compromise your broader communications
objectives, but in the right hands and for the right targeted brand, blogging can be useful.