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


Can Social Media Give Big Pharma Back its Reputation?

Pharmaceutical Executive

Are politicians listening?

Still, many observers are skeptical about whether any of this actually affects public policy. The four case studies in the sidebars provide real examples of what happens when policymakers (well, maybe their interns) see a subject catching fire on Twitter or even just turning up on Google +.

How an obscure, complex issue can be fodder for a spiraling popular culture obsession is best exemplified by the viral video, Kony 2012, which has notched more than 100 million views on YouTube. The video is about a Ugandan rebel warlord, Joseph Kony, and his enslavement of children as soldiers. The grassroots campaign it spawned has the backing of celebrities such as George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey and politicians including George W. Bush and John Kerry. As Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, "When you see 100 million Americans looking at something, it will get our attention. This YouTube sensation will help Congress be more aggressive and will do more to lead to Kony's demise than all other actions combined." US Special Forces are now helping the Ugandan Army to track down Kony.

However, many Ugandans dislike the video and accompanying campaign. Astutely, they think that the video is building Kony's mystique and trivializing the region's many problems. The slick campaign got a lot of views and attention but also raised questions about the video sponsor, an NGO called Invisible Children, and its funding and motives—questions that the group was not prepared to answer. The media backlash in the United States and Canada was swift and severe.

Contrast the Kony 2012 campaign with the example of Global Health Progress (see sidebar). While Global Health Progress certainly could afford to create a slick video like Kony 2012, they instead chose to subtly engage with allies and with the community in an effective manner, to help advance healthcare in low- and middle-income countries.

Pharma has a choice. Does it apply the slick lessons of the anti-Kony campaign to domestic and global health issues? Does it invest in big ticket, simplistic message campaigns to advance its cause, or engage carefully behind the scenes with allies like Global Health Progress? Or does it look back to the days of AHP's punch-drunk encounter with the media on the golf course? Whatever the path, precedent suggests its profile has nowhere to go but up.


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