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ePharma Summit: Less Proselytizing, More Results


Pharmaceutical Executive

At the digital marketing-focused ePharma Summit in New York this week, many of the problems and frustrations related to the “big three” – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – were hashed out for umpteenth time.

At the digital marketing-focused ePharma Summit in New York this week, many of the problems and frustrations related to the “big three” – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – were hashed out for umpteenth time.

Those issues (adverse events, off-label discussions, fair balance presentation, no meaningful FDA guidance) hardly need rehashing here, and despite the barriers, progress has been made on the digital front, as evidenced by – if nothing else – pharma’s willingness to invest in smaller-scale social media efforts not directly tied to product sales. In the digital sphere, ROI means “hitting the primary endpoint,” and that endpoint could be data collection, engagement with widgets or functionalities on a page or within an app, or the number of visitors (or likes) on a Facebook page. “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in five years,” a quote from Socialnomics author Erik Qualman that surfaced in one of the presentations, speaks to the accepted necessity – in some quarters – of social media participation and customer engagement.

“Advertising has already largely shifted to what people say about your brand,” as opposed to the magazine, television and radio ads that people consume, said Martin Husar, customer strategy and innovation at Sanofi Canada. In Canada, DTC isn’t allowed, but last October Sanofi tapped the Toronto-based agency MediResource for an interactive Facebook campaign around atrial fibrillation (A-fib). The business objective, said Husar, was to “own the primary venues for Canadian patients and caregivers to learn about AFib.” By his measure, the company’s Afib at Heart | La fibrillation auriculaire à coeur Facebook campaign has been a success – one need not “like” the page to access the content, and thousands have clicked on tabs like “Ask the Expert,” or “Don’t Skip a Beat,” a Simon-inspired memory game.

A Janssen Canada educational campaign around psoriasis goes a step further, offering a list of available treatments, and a dermatology locator that returns only those dermatologists who “agree that they will use biologics” – Janssen markets Stelara, an immunomodulating biologic – and who have voluntarily signed up to be listed on Janssen’s Living Well With Psoriasis website, according to Spilios Asimakopoulos, director of marketing technology, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Canada. The site also offers a psoriasis “severity calculator,” which is available online or as an app for download.

South of the Canadian border, others agree that the educational/disease awareness space is a good place for experimentation. John Patten, a sales rep for Facebook, told ePharma attendees that “Facebook makes sense in terms of initial support groups [for rare diseases], and locating others with the disease.” He also singled out Bayer’s Walk for Hemophilia and Sanofi Pasteur’s Voices of Meningitis as good examples of Facebook educational campaigns. “Pharma is more powerful in the unbranded, open wall pages” on Facebook, said Patten. Whitelisted brand pages, or pages with the comments function disabled, will be “de-prioritized in the news feed,” and they go against Facebook’s model, which Patten defined as “a distribution platform that promotes authentic sharing.” Perhaps as an added nudge to discourage whitelisted pages, Patten announced that by the end of February, “admins can drill down into individual commenters, and message them directly,” to help deal with “your drug turned my arm blue” adverse events comments.

A couple of hours before Patten’s presentation, however, a regulatory affairs director from a major pharmaceutical company was on a panel griping about the fact that while Facebook allows blocking of comments on the wall, “we can’t turn off sharing or commenting” on the actual brand image. Asked whether the company responds to such comments on the branded Facebook page, the panelist said no: “once you do that, where do you stop?”

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