Can Social Media Give Big Pharma Back its Reputation? - Pharmaceutical Executive


Can Social Media Give Big Pharma Back its Reputation?

Pharmaceutical Executive

What if industry behaved like citizens?

The litany of excuses for pharma's invisibility has been reinforced by recent FDA decisions on the use of social media. But even without the dead hand of the FDA, some observers suggest that pharma wants to play the role of a second-grade consumer marketer, not that of a thoughtful citizen. In many ways, it's a lost opportunity; because we feel passionate about health, we talk about it. A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers study shows that healthcare community sites generate 24 times the social media activity of corporate healthcare sites. According to the study, "one-third of consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and online forums for health-related matters, including seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and broadcasting how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices, and health plans."

Pharma companies need to start by acting as just a fellow citizen. That means listening to the conversation and looking for opportunities to contribute. That contribution can be as simple as adding relevant and useful information, or identifying other credible sources and amplifying thoughtful conversation, without trying to drive it.

Policy debates on Medicaid and healthcare reform are fought out in 30-second TV spots and through frantic grassroots lobbying. Bigger issues such as obesity or ageing are consigned to public television and funded by dull corporate grants. However, policy discussions can no longer be confined to low-rated TV stations and smoke-filled backrooms. This view of how policy is conducted is as wrong as the approach of one former Big Pharma company, American Home Products (AHP), which, back in the 1980s, believed in the virtue of anonymity and ignored the press until it was confronted on its CEO's home turf. I had the misfortune to work as a consultant to AHP when a British investigative journalist repeatedly requested interviews about alleged addiction to its drug Ativan; management ignored the questions until the journalist followed CEO Bernard Canavan on to the golf course on a Sunday morning in search of that exclusive moment. Instead, Canavan hit the reporter over the head with a golf club. On camera.


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