Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
Sometimes I wonder whether pharmaceutical companies actually want people to find the online content they produce.
The thought was brought to mind once again when I saw the diabetes blog Bayer UK & Ireland launched over the summer as a showcase for patient and healthcare professional voices.
Putting aside a less than lovely design, the real problem with the blog is, how is anyone going to find it? The company – hopefully – will promote it through its own channels, but online, where it counts, it appears to have very little presence.
I should add that there are many such examples in this area I could have picked from. (My internet browser has a folder dedicated to those pharma companies – of which Bayer is not one – that refuse to distribute news by either RSS feed or email.)
The annoying thing about Bayer's blog is that it's a really interesting, first-of-its-kind initiative from UK pharma, an industry which until last year was routinely warned off blogging or having anything to do with user-generated content.
But even visitors to the bayerdiabetes.co.uk site, where the blog resides, may wonder where it is. It doesn't have a permanent link on the site's homepage, and the advert there for the blog only displays for five seconds at a time.
Never mind that after waiting for up to 10 seconds for the link to display it then takes you not to the blog but to a Diabetes and Health News section, at least that page has a small link to the actual blog.
Search and discoverability
According to ComScore research from earlier this year, nearly half of UK health consumers, or some 21 million people, place their trust in search when looking for health information.
Here the blog does better, slowly climbing the search rankings against competition from the likes of patient group Diabetes UK (quite a challenge if your audience is looking for 'UK diabetes blogs').
Nevertheless, the only reference to Bayer's blog within the first five pages of search results is my own blog post about its launch. In fact, the day after first writing about it in this column's online version, a patient emailed me wanting to know how to get in touch with Bayer about their new blog.
UK pharma may soon get some further thoughts on what it can do in this area when the ABPI's digital working group issues a list of core principles (due sometime in the Autumn), with blogs and search engine optimisation (SEO) both on the list of topics being considered.
But Bayer's blog's problem is symptomatic of an issue that affects many of its pharma peers. Maybe it's timidity or maybe a lack of joined-up thinking.
Whatever the reason, projects often languish in some dusty corner of the internet and back at base some head scratching goes on as pharma execs wonder why the new digital campaign mis-fired.
Of course, there are some digital initiatives that pharma absolutely can't promote and I'm thinking here of sites set up to take ownership of the URL.
So I appreciate that under the ABPI Code of Practice Pfizer can't advertise its Viagra.co.uk site, nor Bayer its Xarelto-info.co.uk, nor Boehringer its Pradaxa.co.uk and so on. Sites of this kind, an open secret within pharma digital circles, would be obvious candidates for a Code breach should their owners even think about doing so.
But, like the character in The Simpsons who hysterically urges people to 'think of the children', it is time to, rather more calmly, call for pharma companies to think about how to legitimately make their digital content more accessible and 'think of the users'.
There is still too much digital content that pharma hides from its target audience, and in these days of close budget scrutiny that's just not good enough.