We tend to judge how well pharmaceutical companies are doing in social media by analysing their presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But there are many other ways of using social media that should be added to the equation, including the use of what is described as social innovation.
According to Wikipedia, “social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in in virtual communities and networks”. Of course, this includes Facebook and Twitter as social and microblogging networks, but it also comprises social bookmarking, wikis, virtual social worlds and crowdsourcing, to name a few. And all of this can work in an open community or within a closed and restricted set of people (eg, employees of a particular company or registered healthcare practitioners).
There are plenty of internal social media projects in pharma that can rival any other sector. Enterprise social networks may be a good example. Yammer is being used by three of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies while many others are using the social features of Microsoft SharePoint to increase collaboration and teamworking amongst their employees.
Several years ago, Pfizer went further and implemented an internal social innovation network based on Spigit technology. Any Pfizer employee could post new ideas related or not to their area of expertise. They could discuss, improve and rate ideas posted by others, and, finally, an innovation board assessed the feasibility and business impact of the best ones and decided on how to implement them. This was a very successful project that evolved and became organised around innovation communities.
Social innovation becomes much more effective when it is opened to the external world, and your customers can be part of the process. This is called crowdsourcing innovation or open innovation and one of the most popular examples of any sector is 'My Starbucks Idea', a website where the coffee company invites its customers to shape the future of Starbucks together.
You may wonder if any pharma company is using the open innovation approach, as this sector has a tradition of caginess and conservatism. The answer is yes indeed. Lilly pioneered it with its Open Innovation Drug Discovery, a place where Lilly's scientists connect with external investigators to discover new drugs together. This this seems to be the way forward for more and more drug development firms. In 2012, a new startup called Transparency Life Sciences (TLS) claimed to be “the world's first drug development company based on open innovation”. That is, they only work in an open and social environment. Their focus is on the design of clinical trials, their execution and analysis by using what they call “collaborative intelligence”. Anyone, anywhere, can contribute to the planning and design of TLS compound development strategies and tactics in real time.
As set out above, there are other ways of using social media beyond trying to get more followers in the most conspicuous social networks. Engaging employees and customers with social innovation can be a very interesting and productive approach, and many pharmaceutical companies are already doing so.