Adapt or Die! Why Pharma Needs To Get In Line

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by Sven Larsen

#Adaptordie is an apt hashtag to sum up the teachings of digital-media punditBrian Solis. Its also an apt hashtag to describe the current state of affairs in the pharmaceutical industry.

Solissnew book,The End of Business as Usual, a follow-up to the popularEngage, focuses on this need of business to change the old ways and become adept at dealing with consumers in new ways – as part of individual conversations that provide value, rather than as stoic entities that wait for customers to come to them.

Soliss “Conversation Prism is a hugely popular graphic that illustrates that point – that conversations are happening all at once, in a lot of different places, and digital engagement must be in the same vein.

This is hard for any old business to hear – especially one that has been made large and powerful by doing things the old ways. For pharma, with roots in old-fashioned strongholds like medicine and manufacturing, these are painful changes.

As anyone in the industry can tell you, though, these changes have begun. Just as just-in-time manufacturing took over in the 1980s and 1990s, engagement is slowly, slowly becoming the way that marketers and communicators are learning to work with their audiences.

Its not, as the hashtag goes, optional. #Adaptordie might sound pithy and edgy, but its true. Imagine a pharmaceutical company that refused to have any website presence – no corporate site, no brand sites, nothing. Do you think it would be taken seriously? Do you think it would be around for long? Probably not. Yet if you tried to make that argument 15 years ago, youd have been met with utter skepticism.

Were in the midst of that same conversation. Convincing pharma companies of the need to join social media is a battle that is, if not won, at least well underway, thank goodness. But what to do once you get there? Thats the big battleground at present.

Yes indeed, companies would be far more comfortable without open Facebook walls, only posting links to pre-approved press releases. But the best are starting to realize that engagement is not a terrifying, ticking time bomb. (For proof, seeBIs Facebook page.)

The next step is to proactively start engaging conversations.

#Adaptordie brings to mind dramatic spear-rattling movie-montage scenes of action and drama. In practice, the current pharma “adaptation is not much like that. Its more like trying to lure a scared pet out from under a bed. No sudden movements, no loud noises, and let them see that theres nothing scary thats going to swoop down upon them.

Dramatic or not, Solis is right. If pharma doesnt get the hang of engaging their customers in a real way – and in good time – they will, indeed, die. Slow or fast, dramatically or quietly.

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4 Responses to Adapt or Die! Why Pharma Needs To Get In Line

  1. Jason Boies says:

    Hi Sven,

    Boehringer does a great job with its Twitter account as well. (@Boehringer)
    Take a look at their feed, it’s not simply company release after company release. There’s plenty of @ replies and Retweets as well. Good example of Pharma taking the plunge into social to be sure.

    With new toys like PVR’s, TV ads are increasingly easy for television audiences to skip over completely, so it’s wise for Pharma to start trying to reach more eyeballs through social media channels.

    Good post!

    Jason Boies
    Radian6 Community Team
    @Radian6

  2. Shel Holtz says:

    It’s not that I disagree — in fact, I tell my pharma clients pretty much the same thing. But they don’t need to be told the world is changing. They know that. They need answers to the compliance questions that plague them. Open the Facebook page to anybody posting to the wall and you get scads of reports of reactions to drugs, each of which is a “reportable incident” that triggers a phenomenal amount of paperwork. Tell them how to address that and they’ll probably fall in line. Continue to simply shout that they’re not up to date and they’ll continue to fret over regulatory issues.

  3. Sven Larsen says:

    Shel, I appreciate your opinion but with all due respect, that’s the kind of excuse I would expect to hear in 2008 not (almost) 2012. We’ve written often on this blog about compliance and all the tools Pharma companies can use to ensure they don’t get a warning letter (search semantic filtration for example). And there have been numerous incidents where monitoring companies like Radian6 have presented to conferences about the extremely low rates of AE reporting that take place in social media. The big issue is not about compliance on Pharma social media, it’s about whether the FDA expands the scope to make Pharma companies responsible for online discussions of their product in any forum (an admittedly daunting prospect). In the meantime, discussion about (off label use of) products are kind of like the Pharma equivalent of teenage drinking. Would you rather it happens in front of you, where you can monitor activity or in the basement of that older kid who you never really liked and who’s Mom is always hitting on your husband?

    The other thing to remember is that the option of “opening the Facebook page” is no longer in our hands. If a company wants an FB page then they must tolerate openness and all the issues that come with it. Consumers are changing their relationship with companies in the social era and anyone who tells them it would require too much paperwork for them to engage in dialogue can expect to be be swapping sob stories with Kodak and their local city editor.

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