Using Social Networks to Guide Product Spend - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Using Social Networks to Guide Product Spend

Pharmaceutical Executive


Here's an example of what has worked for me recently in my role as medical lead for several international markets. My team and I used sentiment analysis from our customers to develop an innovative approach to field interactions:

1. Information flow typically sparks innovative ideas. I let my teams improve, explore, and pilot ideas. We don't just reflexively react to sentiment analysis but use it proactively as a tool to help spark innovation. For example, we learned that geographical barriers were an issue with our field teams in Australia—it's difficult to meet face-to-face frequently when you're a great distance apart. One approach to resolving this issue was by implementing web video technology, which is meeting with good success.

2. Pilot projects are good if you can transfer them elsewhere. In Australia, we used webcam video technology to circumvent issues with geographic distance. So far, this has proved to be very popular because it provides real-time access between healthcare providers and our regional headquarters in Melbourne. The cost of implementation was similar, if not cheaper, to the cost of one round-trip airline ticket. We're now trying to replicate these activities in Canada.

3. Keep key stakeholders aware by communicating often. It probably goes without saying, but it's worth mentioning that I have had the best results when key partners were kept aware of what we were planning. That way, communication channels are open for feedback, guidance, insights, resources, and support. Specifically I partnered with the commercial teams, market access teams, compliance/regulatory, and global/local medical teams to keep everyone informed, and to get advice on next steps.

4. Have a plan to monitor success. Define metrics upfront. Be specific about goals, so that outcomes are properly assessed.

5. Celebrate successes and failures. Not everything will work, but much can be learned from a failed attempt.

I ask my teams to approach resource investments much as they would their own personal finances: spend wisely without wasting dollars, whether it's for travel, a new program to support a product launch, or a new hire. For example, we learned that the efficacy and safety profiles of compounds are routinely discussed by patients online. With insight from this sentiment monitoring, we were able to design followup studies—including health outcomes studies and Phase IV trials—that would potentially yield results that better inform patients on the appropriate usage of our medicines.

Gauging sentiment online does present challenges, since online conversations are an inherently biased representation of perceptions. Not every user of a product will be chronicling his or her experiences on the Internet. I admit that when planning a trip, I'm an avid TripAdvisor reader, and view many comments and recommendations that other consumers have left on the site. However, I don't often post my own opinions after a trip; even though I intend to, I somehow don't prioritize it, and eventually don't end up doing it. Thus, I rely on what the more active bloggers and commentators have to say, even though there may be thousands of individuals like me whose opinions are not represented because we don't typically post comments.

Despite this limitation, sentiment analysis can be a useful tool as we plan activities and respond in real-time to customer perception, which hopefully will ultimately lead to better investment decisions in the interest of shareholder value.

Amit Rakhit is Vice President, Intercontinental Medical, at Bristol-Myers Squibb. He can be reached at


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