Practicing Safe Social Marketing: Six Steps To Online Engagement - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Practicing Safe Social Marketing: Six Steps To Online Engagement
Social media as a pharma marketing tool has been deemed too vulnerable to regulations, but that doesn't mean you have to stay on the sidelines

Successful Product Manager's Handbook


Support a social network



Patient-led discussions about diseases have moved from Yahoo Groups and listservs, to full-blown social networks. Patient-focused networks exist in a number of places: large general social networks like Facebook, Ning, and MySpace; general health sites like HealthCentral, WebMD, and RevolutionHealth; and specialty platforms like CureTogether, PatientsLikeMe, and Inspire.

Alexandra Carmichael, president and cofounder of CureTogether, a site that enables people to anonymously compare symptoms, treatments, and health data, believes there are many opportunities for collaboration where all parties benefit. "Pharma companies can send us inclusion criteria for clinical trials they need filled. They can also send us surveys about adverse side effects, drug efficacy, and company perception for specific populations of patients."

An example of a company that has partnered with a thriving patient network is LifeScan, a Johnson & Johnson company, and manufacturer of the OneTouch Glucose Meter.

LifeScan learned about TuDiabetes, a social network for those living with diabetes founded by Manny Hernandez in 2007, at an American Diabetes Association-sponsored expo. A partnership developed that resulted in an entire section of the OneTouch site being dedicated to sharing—the root of all social networking—which features information about TuDiabetes and its programs. According to Hernandez, the relationship with LifeScan has been warmly received by the TuDiabetes community and has helped the group grow.

Hang with physicians



Manhattan Research found that 99 percent of doctors are online daily, 85 percent maintain broadband in their offices, and 83 percent consider the Internet essential to their practice. Physicians go online during the day, between patient visits or during patient consults, to search for information. They also peruse blogs, share information in MD-only social networks, and read the online versions of preferred journals. These destinations are prime locations for savvy marketers to disseminate compelling content that goes beyond ad banners.

In the medical blogosphere, Val Jones, MD, of Getting Better with Dr. Val, recently teamed up with other popular physicians and nurse bloggers to create Better Blogcast. The site offers the industry a novel way to access the blogging community in a transparent way. Using an unrestricted grant model, Better Blogcast invites top bloggers to write about specific topics. The posts are shared across all participating sites through a news widget.

Communities where physicians congregate are also a good venue for encouraging discussion and debate. In addition to Sermo and Medscape's Physician Connect, there are specialty-specific communities that may be more appropriate for certain brands. Examples include: EyeSpaceMD for opthalmologists; SpineConnect for spine surgeons; and MedTrust Online for oncologists.

Use Video



A few pharma companies have created branded YouTube and Facebook pages. While it's an encouraging first step, the content posted is not as enticing as it could be. To effectively drive viewership of health video, marketers need to think about the intended audience, medium, and distribution. A common mistake is to upload material developed for TV or DVD to the Web.

"The path to success starts with differentiated and engaging content," says Josh Silberstein, CEO of Health Guru, the largest provider of health video on the web. "Repurposed TV content is the proverbial square peg in a round hole when it comes to online video. Patients are usually looking for more detailed and comprehensive information."

Distribution and uptake is another important issue, so it is best to work with a company that knows content and search optimization to ensure buzz and page views. When done correctly, the rewards can be dramatic: Health Guru's library of over 1,000 videos generated 150 million page views in 2008!


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