Can Pharma Harness Social Media for Product Research and Development?


by DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)

The question seems almost nonsensical at first your Twitter followers may be really outstanding people, but theyre not organic chemists or researchers. And your Facebook fans, while devoted, probably do not, generally speaking, know how to move a new drug through the FDA approval process.

Just the same, its a mistake to discount your social audiences as a source for insight and innovation. In fact, a wide range of category-leading companies do just that. While social media is not as planned or controlled as a focus group, theres potential in polling the audience when it comes to research and development – and along the way you can even benefit the very people youre polling.

Doing it right requires a three-step plan:

Understand what you want to accomplish. In this regard, social media is no different than traditional R&D research: Dont ask existing or potential customers anything without a clear purpose behind “the ask. What do you want to accomplish? Are you looking for feedback on a service (such as when consumers call into the customer care center) or improvement on a product or direction for a new advertising campaign? What about new products: Are you exploring the potential for one or looking at whether your customers have a need for a product that you have not thought of?

A solid roadmap will have goals covering what you hope to accomplish and clear indications of which social channels are and are not appropriate. Need to demo a product? You Tube makes sense. On the other hand, Twitter may be a better fit for simple questions requiring quick feedback. And tools like custom Facebook apps offer ways to bring customers and fans into the content creation process.

Be relevant in your questions and rigorous in your data collection. A solid roadmap lays out needs and expectations, but even the best plans can go astray if your research questions dont balance your needs with the realities of social media, which often boil down to: Dont be boring.

Tweets sending people to a 50-question survey or requests that Facebook followers sit through six sample commercials in search of the one they like best are unlikely to go anywhere. Instead, keep things short, clear and most importantly be ready to monitor and take feedback from the conversations that grow out of your public questions. They can be the source of tremendous insight.

Crunch the data and dont leave the audience in the dark. One of the unique aspects of social media is that a lot of silos get knocked down people have a great (and sometimes unreasonable) desire to peek behind the corporate curtain and know whats going on. This is a powerful force and can jump-start your social-driven research people love to be treated like insiders, and promising to give them a first peek at a new innovation, a new campaign or even just a slight change in how your company does something will motivate participation in your research.

The key is: You have to deliver on your promise. If you tell participants youre working on a new way to talk about an established product and want their input, give them a peek before its rolled out to the public. Not doing so is bad form in the social landscape; promising to do it and then not delivering is an even bigger faux pas.

Whether its a one-drug boutique company or a global powerhouse, research and development is a constant part of pharmas product and service lifecycles. While social media isnt a substitute for formalized marketing research, it can be a powerful, low-cost augmentation to the toolbox.




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