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Braving uncharted waters

Low risk ways for pharmaceutical companies to keep a toe-hold in social media do exist

The recent changes to Facebook have once more highlighted the perils that marketing trailblazers face on the turbulent seas of social marketing. It has also demonstrated, once again, the dichotomy facing pharmaceutical companies in this area.

The large number of pharmaceutical companies – 10 at last count and increasing – who have dropped their Facebook presence rather than allow comments to appear on their pages have highlighted that, while companies like the media side of social media, they are far less comfortable with the social aspect. So, in reality, can the pharmaceutical industry really be active in this area?

Low risk ways for pharmaceutical companies to keep a toe-hold in social networking sites, at least for the time being, do exist. Adding a 'like' button to company owned websites, which posts only on to the user's own wall, is one way of allowing some limited sharing without the risk of adverse commenting. It has the advantage of allowing a wider user base to be aware of the company website, but for many sensitive disease areas is unlikely to be a very popular feature.

However, there are other ways to achieve the same thing. One example is Cymalon: the OTC product for cystitis created a social network page centred on an issue peripheral, but associated to, this potentially embarrassing condition. Leveraging a target audience insight (that men do not understand the condition) and transferring this to the idea that men don't really understand what women want, as shown by the rubbish gifts they give, allowed a successful Facebook campaign with a competitive element. This generated a large audience to further promote against with positive consumer interest.

A second example demonstrates that this tactic can successfully work with professional audiences as well. While contrast media in radiology are probably low interest for most radiologists – the insight that these doctors are highly competitive when it comes to the images they generate led to the excellent

The final example of good use of social media to target individuals in a difficult to reach area was the spoof advertisement for skin cancer charity Skcin. Using a fake product called Sunny 3, which it claimed multiplied the effects of the sun, it generated reviews on beauty blogs, tweets and even a fake YouTube video. The respondents were those who were most vulnerable to skin damage, a superb use of the medium.

Finally Google+ with its private circles features might just allow discrete groups to form around difficult topics, although how they will be invited to attend and whether this will be an attractive option still remains to be shown, but its 'sparks' recommendation tool might help here.

Exploring uncharted waters with the chance of running into dragons or worse might not appeal to all save the brave, but it can be done with thought and care. Hopefully, like the explorers of old, there will always be those willing to push back the frontiers and dispel the myths.

Max JacksonS_and_H-IconThe Author
Max Jackson
is chief executive of EMEA and APAC at Sudler & Hennessey
He can be contacted at:



5th October 2011


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