Boldly Going Where Many Have Gone Before - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Boldly Going Where Many Have Gone Before


Pharmaceutical Executive


Disseminate Content in Selected Spaces

Once the target patient is defined and content and messaging are approved, sponsors are ready to begin strategically and systematically introducing the content into selected social networking spaces.

While the list of social networking services with critical mass behind them is always growing, sponsors also have the option to create their own unique, specific applications that run on users' social networking "desktops" (Facebook or MySpace profiles). Advertisers build these applications using publicly available application programming interfaces (APIs) developed and published by respective social networks. APIs enable individual applications to function and behave consistently in terms of installation and dissemination within given networks, including how users share an application with network friends.

Last year, Acurian created and launched "Click It Forward" (CIF), a proprietary initiative and application designed to grow clinical trial awareness online, increase patient access to relevant trials, and increase sponsors' access to interested participants. The initiative invites Facebook and MySpace users to add CIF, a cause-related social marketing application, to their profile pages, in exchange for a donation to a selected health-related cause. Based on the cause or causes that each user selects, Acurian displays specific clinical trial participation opportunities on the CIF dashboard and sends IRB-approved e-mails to users who have provided permission to be contacted.

Monitor Results, Adjust Resources

The on-time, on-budget completion of any clinical trial recruitment effort is always dependent upon the ability to measure, assess, and adjust recruitment tactics in real time. This capability has become even more critical in the current environment, as recruitment budgets shrink and the marketing mix becomes more complex. Sponsors need tracking mechanisms that allow them to immediately identify less effective tactics, and redirect time and money into those that are generating a better return—whether online or not.

The availability of channel-appropriate, effective options should apply to pricing as well. Traditional online promotional pricing is based on cost-per-click or cost-per-thousand impressions. These pricing systems do not protect sponsors from curiosity seekers or geographically inappropriate users who click on trial ads (therefore incurring cost) while never intending to participate in studies. Without a performance-based pricing structure in place, sponsors bear the risk of online advertising that is too broadly disseminated or that attracts too many virtual "tire kickers." Sponsors should look for recruitment partners with the business volume to negotiate payment based on achieving a meaningful recruitment milestone, such as pre-qualified patient referrals that are geographically proximate to a participating research site.

Equally important is the ability to track and measure all sources of e-recruitment in real time. Performance can vary greatly within social networks, and it is imperative that clinical trial teams have the ability to act quickly when managing a recruitment budget. Most major recruitment firms offer platforms that collect and evaluate conversion ratios from dozens of Internet-based sources simultaneously and in real time, and then integrate these data with the results from more traditional recruitment activities. These dashboards enable study teams to evaluate and adjust their strategy in the heat of battle to further ensure that recruitment funds are allocated to top performing campaigns and research sites.

In the face of continued uncertainty around online patient and consumer communications, many clinical trial sponsors have adopted a "wait and see" approach toward e-recruitment. Fortunately, though, there is already enough accumulated e-recruitment experience that sponsors can be assured of its viability. Waiting to venture out into this new world could mean sacrificing time, dollars, and potential participants. In 2009, a full 54 percent of all pre-qualified patient referrals generated by Acurian's recruitment efforts came from online initiatives. And, as individuals increasingly get their news and information online, traditional recruitment channels will continue to fall behind in terms of prominence and value.

With the right approach, the right experience, and the right tools, social networking channels can be cost-effective and efficient recruitment tools that put sponsors' messages in front of selected, active and engaged audiences.

Scott Connor VP of Marketing at Acurian. He can be reached at


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