by DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
Like Tom Petty sang, the waiting is the hardest part. But is it necessary for pharma to continue holding out for social media guidelines before implementing digital strategy?
With more than 75 percent of people using the Internet, social media is an important component of business communication. Yet, many pharmaceutical companies are still behind the eight ball when it comes to online interaction and taking advantage of this medium.
Back in 2009, the Food and Drug Administration said guidelines were coming, only to backtrack on that by delaying any formal rules and dropping social media from its 2011 guidance agenda. Its understandable that without guidelines people are unsure how to proceed. But those who dont take action now may miss out on an effective way to communicate with customers.
Change is constant. There are going to be new platforms, new users and an ever-faster pace of sharing information. The marketing mix is changing and pharma cant afford to fall behind lest they be completely left out of the conversation. Physicians and patients are participating online, leaving a lot of untapped potential for marketers. And, the shift to patient empowerment has brought pharma-centric conversation to the social web. Shouldnt companies even pharma companies — be proactive in shaping messages and ensure customers have access to accurate, vetted information?
Innovation waits for no one. Companies that want to change, lead or influence need to take calculated risks and proceed even without formal guidelines. Often, a permissible approach results in delays, obstacles and stagnation. For companies waiting for permission, by the time they get it, itll be too late. Someone else will lead the pack and theyll again be reduced to playing catch up.
That doesnt mean to proceed without caution and strategic foresight, but it does mean the time to act is now not at some undetermined point in the future. Consider how the U.S. Navy has embraced social media for recruiting. Realizing that conversations are happening online, with or without guidelines, they chose to not fight it and instead promote social media usage throughout the ranks.
Uncertainty affects everyone. One of the biggest barriers with any new technology or communication medium is knowing where to start. Pharma should look at what other heavily regulated industries are doing and gain insight from how leading companies manage compliance and the resources required to navigate a complex environment. This post notes that drug companies allocated an average of $750,000 for their digital marketing budgets this year, with digital marketing budgets currently ranging from $150,000 to several million dollars.
Even for companies who are avoiding social media due to fear of regulatory backlash should have a strategy in place to monitor whats being said. While this one-way window limits the value of social media, it can provide valuable insight into the target audience and highlight future opportunities and pitfalls.