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Social is about listening not marketing…

…are you still talking too much in the rush to stake a claim in this space?

Listen buttonIt seems that everyone is hyping social media and its impact on the healthcare market. However, despite this hype the pharmaceutical industry has been slower than some to embrace the revolution, partly due to regulatory concerns and partly due to lack of expertise and knowledge.

Let's look at some of the numbers: 500 million people now access Facebook; Twitter claims 10 billion tweets a month, and 25 per cent of the world's population is now online. It's no surprise then that pharmaceutical customers (patients and healthcare professionals) have been adopting in their droves. Studies continue to show an uptake in consumption of healthcare information online. Destinations such as and have seen a growth in membership and hashtag-based communities on Twitter talking about all manner of healthcare issues are growing fast.

The good, bad and ugly
The industry's response to this growth has ranged from one extreme to another: from no engagement whatsoever to a full blown 'let's see where this goes' attitude. Given the mixed approach, the results too have been mixed. Some companies have been blazing quite a trail: Janssen-Cilag with its Living with ADHD YouTube channel and website; Novartis with its US-based Christopher Chronicles, Facebook and Twitter presence; and Bayer Schering's in-bed campaign for Levitra. But, there have also been some well-publicised failures such as sanofi-aventis' Voices and most recently in August Novartis received a warning letter from the FDA for the content and use of the share button on the Facebook page for Tasigna.

So, should social media be a part of your marketing mix? A recent study from Pew predicted that 75 per cent of the doctors they interviewed would use some type of mobile device to access and share information within their personal networks and patients alike. As HCPs and patients continue to adopt social media, the opportunities to engage the right stakeholder at the right time with the right message is an overwhelming motivator. So the answer to the question of whether to use social media will be a resounding 'yes'!

Sharing not selling
Once you have decided to take the plunge, how do you go about setting up the capabilities? Most companies still look at this medium as a selling tool and therefore keep it within the digital advertising or marketing departments. Social is about sharing, not selling. It's about telling stories and building communities and, therefore, I believe it should be part of the communications function. This is an important debate and could shape the nature of our industry's involvement in this space. It is after all simply another channel which allows us to communicate with our audiences.

Getting the basics right
Social media guidelines with simple rules for community management, governance, terms of service and posting rules need to be created and published. Transparency is key here.

Standard operating procedures, including a social media crisis management protocol need to be created and tested. This way you and your organisation will be ready to address the kinds of things sanofi-aventis and Novartis went through quickly and in a manner conducive to both the social media realm and your internal regulatory requirements.

A search engine optimisation and management plan is critical to help audiences find the information they seek, and sharing best practice means the organisation learns what works best in what area.

As each organisation is different, social media engagement will also differ. I believe strongly that social media should be part of an overall communications strategy, not a stand-alone tactic. A Facebook fan page for your product is not a social media strategy.

Social is a change in the way you think and act. It's about listening not marketing; sharing not selling.

Ritesh PatelThe Author
Ritesh Patel
is Leader, Digital and Social Practice, at Chandler Chicco Companies
He can be contacted at:

This article was first published in PME November/December 2010 as part of the Thought Leader series.

To comment on this article, email

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22nd November 2010


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