Pharma Discovers Social Media

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by: Mark Rogers

A good report in Rareplay observes that pharmaceutical companies are using social media in marketing and communications. The piece cites Wyeth’s Knowmenopause resource for women seeking information about the menopause and GSK’s appointment of a social media manager.

There are good reasons why drug companies should be interested in this space. Social media tends to unite people with common interests (e.g. a common medical complaint) and bad news travel fast in these connected networks. It is important that pharmaceutical companies communicate factually about medicines and provide easy-to-use resources for patients and their families, answering common questions. The challenge of the internet is that it is a world (much like the real one) where the facts are mingled with misinformation and rumour. This is a situation familiar to anyone who has googled a medical condition, only to discover that their ailment is much more serious than they could possibly have guessed! Try this search for gustatory sweating.

The challenge to pharmaceutical companies is that engaging actively online demands total transparency, honesty and clarity. Legal requirements on pharmaceutical companies often make it difficult for them to talk in a way that patients can understand. The upside of social networks is that they tend to be rich in highly motivated individuals (bloggers, the hosts and moderators of forums) who can mediate the message to the wider community. The risk is that the authority of these individuals comes from their (sometimes cranky) independence. To be successful pharma needs to speak consistently to these folk and to build long-term relationships with them.

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