By Spitz (@SpitzStrategy)

Hope Springs Infernal

Seems a day of press doesn’t go by without a pundit, blogger, or consultant extolling the need for pharma participation in social media. The inherent benefits are too obvious and extensive to regurgitate here, as are all the pitfalls and seemingly intractable obstacles.

Guidance or no guidance, user-generated content within any healthcare communication is potentially problematic from a privacy point of view; the challenges are  exponentially greater for pharma in terms of reputation management and adverse event reporting.

Even the more passive exercise of social media monitoring is typically ignored or actively resisted. Concerns about pharma participation raised almost three years ago by Jonathan Richman in his classic “Dose of Digital” blog post remain true, the risks generally outweighing action.

Never Say Never

But like most change, the only missing ingredient is time. We all see the social future, now needing patience more than any other commodity to get there. For proof of that, look no further than junk food makers like Lay’s and monster retailers like Wal-Mart as slow but resolute adopters.

A recent NYT article describes how manufacturers and industries with far fewer communications shackles than pharma are only now tapping into the full potential of social. Embracing product idea crowdsourcing and buzz metrics, they are beginning to capitalize on the world’s largest, most accessible, and cost efficient market research platforms: Facebook and Twitter.

Most fascinating is appropriation by Lay’s of Facebook “Like” to “I’d Eat That,” a simple, intuitive, and highly effective way for consumers to share their taste preferences and vote on new flavor ideas. The slick gimmick makes us in healthcare communications wonder if the next logical step for pharma could be “I’d Take That”?

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Still leagues from active patient and caregiver engagement, pharma is nonetheless taking baby steps. In March, for example, GSK announced partnerships for active monitoring of social channels, while pharma continues to dabble in unbranded educational initiatives and clinical trial recruitment, even exploring emerging channels with mobile app development.

The takeaway? As digital health communicators, our responsibility is to stay informed and realistic, but hopeful. Pushing the envelope is job #1 for every innovator, but campaigns that never launch and digital assets that are never created simply echo the silence. If it took a potato chip company and Wal-Mart this long to indulge the obvious, clearly our time will come‚îeventually.

And in the meantime? Despite the challenges many healthcare companies are already dipping their toes and sometimes actively playing. Take a look at tweetpharm from InTouch Solutions for a taste of where healthcare and pharma are already playing, and the vast potential lurking and ready to explode within social media monitoring and participation:



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