POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Is It Time To Give Up on Social Media For Rx Info?

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This post is part of a series of point/counterpoint arguments proposed by different members of the Pixels & Pills staff. Were strong believers that healthy arguments can yield the best solutions, and we hope that you enjoy our series. Feel free to add your own arguments in the comments section below!

by Krissy Goelz (@krisgoelz)

When it comes to developing business strategy, the rationale of “everybodys doing it doesnt cut the mustard. Yet, when it comes to commercial prescription pharma participating in social media, it seems that the push to embrace social conversations is that everybody is doing it.

For other industries, social media is certainly a strong tactic to pursue. Its where customers are engaging and with the acceleration in mobile communication, likely where theyll continue to play. However, social media isnt a one-size-fits all tactic. Commercial pharma faces unique challenges that other industries such as the beverage and spirits or apparel industries do not.

At a bare minimum, commercial prescription pharma is missing the cool factor. You can push it all you want, but people dont want to be friends with their medication or disease. Theyre not going on Facebook to garner medical information or educate themselves on side effects, prescription regimes or the latest surgical techniques. Theyre tending to their farms, updating their status and sharing cool internet finds with their network.

The FDAs failure to provide established guidelines and a clearly defined social media operating framework also inhibits commercial prescription pharma from effectively using social media to their advantage and creates a damned if you do, damned if you dont environment. Because the FDA is currently operating under an “enforcement discretion mindset, commercial prescription pharma cant fully deploy a social strategy without being fearful of FDA repercussion.

Changes in social platforms such as Facebook no longer enable companies to restrict people from commenting on their page which will create further challenges for commercial pharma organizations. Until the FDA issues new rules to accommodate the largely unregulated conversations that happen online, commercial pharma needs to play it safe, and that means bowing out of social media.

Of course, this not making a decision is possibly a good thing. Social media is still in its early days, giving commercial pharma an opportunity to learn from others mistakes. Being an observer rather than a participant can help commercial pharma organizations avoid snafus experienced by the likes of Kenneth Cole, Chrysler and Motrin. Reputation protection is important for pharma companies, especially as they seek to gain credibility as a trustworthy source of patient information.

Twitter doesnt fare any better in terms of offering pharma true social capabilities. For one thing, its impossible to include safety summary information in a 140-character tweet. Its also being used more as a broadcast medium than a dialogue initiator. While one-way communication is business-as-usual for commercial pharma, social media is supposed to be about participatory dialogue. Even if commercial pharma could get those conversations going, it requires significant time and resources to be done right. Should commercial pharma organizations invest in the bandwidth and resources that are required for effective social media engagement or is that money better spent on research and development, physician outreach, sales activity and other direct-to-patient communications?

Social media is evolving and changing as new platforms come online (hello, Google+), but commercial pharma hasnt even kept up with current social media trends. Instead of being innovative, the industry is spending its time playing catch up and they havent even kept current with that. Placing too much emphasis on a problem area only creates more problems.

Commercial pharma should play to its strengths and build on what theyre good at doing. Instead of figuring out how to win a losing game, its time for commercial pharma to give it up already and leave social media to its primary use: socializing.



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