Pharma and Facebook

Today, Facebook won’t exempt Pharma companies from its comment policy – save for individual product Pages.

I’ve been saying for years that Facebook is dangerous. Disclosure: I’m not a fan. And I’m actually been considering deleting my own personal Facebook account.

Is this really a big deal?


Pharma has much bigger problems to address.

Pharma – just like any industry – doesn’t have to be on Facebook.

That’s the beauty of the Web, which I think is lost on almost everybody I’ve spoken to about this with an interest in the conversation.

Why such a rush?

Every single day the Web changes. That word – Web – is an apt metaphor. Like a spider casting its net, you have to be careful around it.

Very few Pharma companies have mastered even the most rudimentary skills required for today’s communications. For a trillion dollar industry – its Public Relations, Advertising and Marketing vendors included – that’s an utter shame. It truly is.

This isn’t about Adverse Events. This is about understanding the true nature of the Web; knowing how to communicate clearly, concisely and responsively; and dealing with the near incompatibility of strategic change and culture change (more on that in a future post).

Do you know what’s the most important place to for any company? It’s its own website…it’s own domain.

Rather insane, then, to even consider bothering with Facebook when blogging (which is what Facebooking and Tweeting are) isn’t even in the finger bones of many Pharma enterprises.

I’m not wrong. I almost never am. And when I am, I know why I was. 🙂

Pharma – don’t worry about Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

Focus on understanding the Web. Focus on learning how to communicate. Focus on your emptying pipelines.

Your patients need drugs that work. Not status updates nor tweets that vanish like rain in a fast-moving stream.

Phil Baumann, RN


Astra Zeneca’s RXsave Twitter Chat

Astra Zeneca (@AstraZenecaUS) held its first Twitter chat on prescription savings programs using the hashtag RXsave. (Transcript below.)

Regular readers know that I run two of these Twitter chats – RNchat and MDchat – and so I was definitely curious to see how Astra’s stab at it flow.

I think the moderator the chat, Jennifer McGovern, did a great job keeping the conversation going in spite of the volume of social media fans and of tweets of those who aren’t fans of Astra. I’m not going to get into the whole Pharma-is-evil versus Pharma-is-good discussion here. I’m interested in what value these chats have to the people who actually benefit – clinically referred to as “patients”.

The only way to know that, is for Astra to continue these chats on a regular basis and hope that the dominant voices are those of patients who want to know about savings programs. I suspect, however, that Astra will evaluate the chat – with particular focus on the FDA’s guidance, which should be out by the end of 2027. Maybe 2022. Anyway, Astra took a calculated risk – and in my opinion, that’s just what you have to do. The Web doesn’t wait.

These chats work if the people for whom they’re intended show up and can be heard.

If the majority of the chat is dominated by two camps – social media cheerleaders and anti-Pharma renegades – then how are the interests of patients helped by either?

There are other places in which each camp can have those conversations. For last night’s chat – given that it was the first and Astra appeared to have been looking for some social media insight – I do think having social media fans participate provided value in reference to how Pharma can reach those in need.

Last night, there were roughly 800 tweets. Here’s a breakdown of top mentions and tweeters during the chat, courtesy of Foxe Practice (click image to enlarge):

The participants’ tweets were a mix of fans and naysayers. Alicia Stales (@stales), who is active in patient advocacy, and Amanda Dolan (@apdolan) who works for Wego Health were active in the chat. Besides Alicia, I would like to know if people who need theses services actually had a voice (or were able to derive value from it).

Over 150 of the tweets came from someone tweeting about Seroquel and claims against Astra. (I don’t know, maybe it’s because I do this stuff so much, but these kinds of tweets can be sorta entertaining…if it weren’t for their ability to drown out the voices of those who should be heard.)

Of course (as I kind a predicted, there would be a fair share of us social media peeps 😉

That’s OK – that’s just part of the wildness of Twitter chats! (Jennifer, I feel your headache 😉

But in future chats, the message of the chat shouldn’t be Social Media. The message should be the person who needs to be heard.

I’ll be on John Mack’s Pharma Marketing Talk this afternoon at 2pm (2/17/11) to discuss Doctors and social media, and I’m sure this will come up. That’s an example of a forum where these matters should be discussed – off the Twitter chats that are designed for specific people seeking specific healthcare solutions. Just my opinion.

If Astra can commit to that, and if the greater community of observers can just let these chats transpire the way the’re supposed to, then we’ll see more clearly (and measurably) how well these kinds of experiences help those who need help.

# Here’s the transcript with the RTs (Retweets) stripped out [link]:

RXsave Twitter Chat by AstraZenecaUS – Transcript February 16, 2011

These chats need to only benefit one person for them to be worth their time.

As a business person, I full-know that isn’t an appetizing proposition to most enterprises.

I’ll just say this though: in the 21st Century, one person with limited resources can have more media power than a multinational corporation. Oh, it may not be easy, but it’s way more possible than it was twenty years ago.

So rock on Astra. I hope this was training ground for how 21st Century communications work.

Social Media is mostly a mess. It can be a hostile place full of sound fury and pictures of cats.

So my advice: if you want to do this well, do it with love.

Love isn’t something PR and Marketing folks were trained to fold into their work. But that was last century.

You will encounter haters – either deservedly or not. Love is the only thing that will save you from hate. In other words, if you do the things that people love, they won’t hate you. Make sense?

If you don’t love what you do on these Twitter chats, they’ll grow stale, the novelty will wear off and nobody will derive any value from them.

Don’t go for PR. Go for love.



What If FDA Mandated Pharma to Use Social Media?

FDA announced that it would delay guidelines on digital marketing until end of Q1 2011. You can read up on it over on Advertising Age here.

Now, much of the attention to this matter – the concerns about Adverse Event reporting, Fair Balance, HIPAA, etc. – has focused on getting FDA to offer guidance on how the regulated life sciences industries can participate in 21st Century media.

It’s a huge issue, fraught with all sorts of nuances (do we need FDA-compliant tweets for goodness sake?) and under-the-hood considerations (data in sharing widgets, etc.).

FDA could go anywhere with this matter. There’s been debate if FDA even fully understands the properties of emerging media and how they all inter-relate. FDA could set a very tight leash on marketing – which would also limit the industry’s ability to interact with patients in ways that could be beneficial.

But one scenario which I’m not sure has been pointed out. What if FDA went in an almost opposite direction. What if FDA actually said to the industry:

We want you to have social media presences so that you can monitor for Adverse Events, track conversations about your products and be immediately available on social networks in cases of public health emergencies.

Furthermore, what if FDA mandated that companies collect, document and store all tweets, blog posts, Facebook status updates and all other public communications?

And not only company-generated communications, but any communications to the companies (e.g. mentions on Twitter). And that the databases be readily subject to audit.

It’s just a thought.

I can’t imagine FDA going this way without at the same time putting a leash on what companies can do.

So what if the following happens? Pharma gets the craziest of both worlds: a mandate to establish digital presences while being limited in what it can actually do. o_O

I don’t know. My sense is that the whole project will be a mess.

The more you think about these peculiar regulatory problems – the deeper you think about all the nuances – you realize how twisted the Web is making things.

Maybe what’s needed isn’t so much social media guidance.

Maybe what’s needed is an entirely different model of regulation: a different regulatory agency, a different Pharma marketing mindset and a better way to deliver molecular and mechanical solutions to human health problems.

Yeah, looks like the Web done gonna ruin a long drug party. 😉