An Open Conversation - Pharmaceutical Executive

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An Open Conversation


Pharmaceutical Executive


The problem is that right now there is no structured two-way dialogue between pharma and its consumers. In truth, there is no real social media being done in the pharmaceutical industry. Almost every initiative, from YouTube to Facebook, is being done with the commenting component either turned off or heavily moderated. In an era where all forms of communication are seen as tools for pushing pills, there is a built in bias against experimenting with new technologies that are not specifically regulated – there is a high level of risk in the simple unknown.

"One of the biggest challenges right now is changing the corporate mind set of Big Pharma," explains Ignite Health CEO Fabio Gratton. "Social media require a top-down shift in philosophy, as well as changes in the ground rules by which health and product information is disseminated. Individuals within these organizations are using new social media technologies with more frequency, but that doesn't mean the entire organization is ready to embrace these technologies and use them effectively.

"Companies like J&J, with its blog and Facebook ADHD program, are slowly opening up the channel and doing the right thing by taking small learnings and turning them into company wide insights. This allows other brands to see new possibilities and adopt those types of processes into their own marketing plan," Gratton says.

Start Slow, Build Big

Some experts feel Johnson & Johnson has a natural knack for patient dialogue because of its massive consumer division. In the past few years, the pharma giant has launched a handful of popular blogs, as well as YouTube and Facebook networks that seem to be catching on better than most pharma social media initiatives. Its head of communications thinks the answer lies in the support of senior management.


SOCIAL MEDIA: Key Pathways to Success
"We saw a growth in consumer-generated content, and we realized that we needed to get our heads around [social media]," explains Marc Monseau, director, corporate media relations at J&J.

But J&J also started with baby steps. Its first blog was the Kilmer House History blog, put together by Margaret Gurowitz, a communications employee who was fascinated with the company's history. "Part of the reason we are able to do what we do today is because she managed to work very closely with our colleagues in the regulatory and legal departments to understand what the concerns were," Monseau says.

As in most pharma companies, the major concerns of the J&J legal department were how to handle consumers making comments into an open-field text box, how to manage adverse event reports, and personal accounts concerning off-label use.

"[Gurowitz] constructed a policy and process by which to manage [those issues]," Monseau says. "That sent us down a road where we could experiment with all the blogs we have today, as well as our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter sites."

In addition to legal concerns, there are still questions about how much value a pharmaceutical company can provide online. But at the end of the day, traditional advertising and marketing isn't going to draw a virtual crowd.

"The initiatives that seem to provide value are where we are providing content that isn't branded, but is moving us toward giving people content they can use," Monseau says.

For example, J&J has created a health network on YouTube to provide users with a bevy of unbranded health information. On Facebook, the company has created unbranded ADHD sites for adults to view information from experts, take self-assessment forms, and learn more about the disease.

"The degree of uncertainty and lack of clarity prevents the prescription-based industry from doing a lot of things that a consumer product organization could do," Monseau says. "It causes a lot of apprehension in terms of how to create a campaign."


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