“Weltmeisterschaftssiegerbesiegter”- That’s one LONG word! It is German and means “We lost the worldcup, but it is ok, because we were eliminated by the current worldcup champion” (Hat tip to all my Spanish friends!). All of sudden, the word does not seem so long anymore, hun? This German lesson is to illustrate how important words and their meanings can be.
If you followed the healthcare blogosphere lately, you should not have missed Jon’s brilliant white papers 10 Things I’m Tired of Hearing About Pharma Social Media followed by 10 Things I’d Like to Start Hearing About Pharma Social Media. Jim Lefevere added to this, sharing his great Real Lessons from the Frontline: 10 things I’ve Learned About Pharma Social Media. I truly enjoyed reading these posts and encourage all of you to do the same. They are full of useful insights and advice on how a pharma company can get started with social media. I also agree with their message: Yes, we are going around in circles on many issues. Yes, many social media presentations lack concrete opportunities to advance the conversation with a broader set of stakeholders (…and yes, I could not resist a shameless #hcsmeu camp plug here ).
Yet, the term “pharma social media” kept gnawing on me. What does this mean: Pharma social media?
Pharma is one of the industries with the most complex mix of stakeholders. It therefore always had to carefully chose how to communicate with each of them. Each pharma marketing and comms department has dedicated resources for each of stakeholder, because it is crucial to generate targeted content and messages for each carefully and responsibly.
Yet, all of a sudden, when we talk about “pharma social media”, we lose this focus. In an instant, one youtube channel or twitter account features amazing patient testimonies targeted at patient education alongside hard-core quarterly results presentations aimed at seducing financial analysts. This phenomena is easy to comprehend: Many pharmacos started their engagement in social media through one corporate communications account. I believe this was a great start, but it has to be refined, evolved and integrated to the existing communications plan now. It is time to differentiate pharma’s social media messages and channels by stakeholder, because this is the only way to create engagement via social media.
Social media is a conversation that is ALREADY happening. Pharma companies can rarely generate it, they can only identify and add to. In short, any successful social media initiative by pharma is one that manages to create engagement with the stakeholders targeted. Social media for pharmacos therefore should be entirely about getting the right amount of information to the right patient, physician, regulator, payer, journalist or financial analyst etc. at the right time. Sort of a personalized medicine approach to social media. Lisa Emrich from Brass and Ivory , for example, describes the MS social media community like this:
We … are like blood cells which flow through a body. If we all congregated around one hand within the body …, the rest of the body would die. And if we isolate ourselves and never venture back to the lungs where we find personal nourishment and rest, we would individually die off. Although my travels online may never take me to the left foot, I am comforted to know that others feed that community and that it thrives.
I could not have found a more fitting and magnificent metaphor! It makes the implications for any pharmaco seeking to engage with stakeholders via social media so perfectly apparent: Depending on the community pharma tries to engage with, its activities might be welcomed or rejeted by the community’s “pharma anti-bodies”. Pharma thus has to be very clear which parts of the body it wants to engage with how and on which topics.
One-size-fits-all channels cannot achieve this nor are they flexible enough to interact with the diverse stakeholders in the body. Also on a much more practical level, if you have one twitter, facebook, youtube etc. account for your company, it usually means you have ONE (or even less than one) full-time equivalent responsible for the entire communication to all stakeholders! That is a hell of a job… and impossible to maintain! If pharma truly wants to have engaging, real-time conversations online with its stakeholders, it has to at once integrate and expand its social media approach throughout the entire organization.
Social media can revolutionize the way we deliver health care. I believe the right dose of pharma engagement plays an important part in this revolution. Yet, I believe that if we continue to call it ” pharma social media” we are sending the wrong message. The term “pharma social media” for me implies it is owned by pharma, aimed at everyone, maintained by one or two employees and by definition mostly one-way. I thus propose we move away from this word and use “pharma engagement in social media” instead.
What do you think? Am I being nit-picky here? Does it matter what we call it? Are there valid reasons to keep on calling it “pharma social media”? Or should we call it something completely different altogether?