Should Life Sciences Companies Socialize on Social Networks?
Tapping into social networks is great for engaging your audience – if you’re selling aftershave. But can it translate into results for life sciences companies?
All types of companies are diving into the waters of marketing on social networks, sparking conversations that never would have happened only a few years ago. For them, engagement is the name of the game – not just awareness. Are the rules different for life sciences companies? Do they have a place in social media?
Here’s the debate.
Visibility, yes. Engagement, no.
|Social networks are nice, but the truth is that we’ll never actually sell drugs directly through them. Let’s stick to selling.||This is about something else – collecting new information, communicating faster and more precisely and learning about new ideas outside the company. Aren’t those important?|
|Without guidance, we’re just shooting in the dark. Anything we do could result in a warning letter.||Yes, there’s lots of uncertainty. But what if the industry began self-regulating before the government weighs in? After all, we already know what we can and can’t say.|
|We’re talking about prescription drugs and life-threatening diseases here, not toothpaste. It’s a totally different type of conversation – and not one that’s well suited to social networks.||Creativity is over-rated. We’re focused on getting the right products in the right place at the right time. Retail isn’t brain surgery.|
|If we say the wrong thing, we leave the door wide open to unnecessary risks.||The risks of saying the wrong things can be mitigated. And the benefits of saying the right things far outweigh the risks.|
|Social networks value authenticity. Anything we can say will come off as stiff and corporate. Let’s not reinforce any stereotypes.||We have to learn to speak with authenticity in the age of social networks – now or later.|
Are you kidding?
People will talk no matter what. You need to be a part of the conversation.
|People are already connecting with one another to discuss their conditions, treatments, medicines and other health issues. We owe it to them to share our insights and information on our medicine.||That doesn’t mean they want us in the conversation. We shouldn’t intrude.|
|It’s risky only if we don’t have a good governance model.||Don’t overestimate your ability to govern that which is essentially ungovernable.|
|This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for – the chance to finally show our human side. We can’t afford to pass it up.||We spend a lot of money showing our human side in venues where we have control. All it takes is one wrong step in social networks to ruin all that hard work.|
Say you’ve just purchased the smartest, most intelligently engineered phone ever made. It comes loaded with capabilities – 3D videoconferencing, voice-activated everything, whatever. There’s only one catch: you can only use it to send text messages. That’s how some of the life sciences executives I know feel about social networks.
They see lots of promise and who wouldn’t. Every week brings tales of companies in different industries tapping social networks to engage customers and prospects at a whole new – and deeper – level. An amazing tool.
Yet it’s understandable that life sciences execs might be unsure which of its capabilities they can take advantage of, without running afoul of their customers or the law.
While it’s true that life sciences companies have greater reason than others to be cautious, this is not the time to fall behind. Some of the most important conversations happening in social networks are those involving health care and life sciences. It is a hot spot.
All around the world, people who had previously been struggling with one condition or another in isolation are connecting with others for information and advice. You owe it to them to have a part in that conversation. Sometimes your role may be simply to listen. There’s a lot to learn. Sometimes you’ll offer useful insights or information. It’s a conversation that goes both ways.
If you’re viewing social networks as nothing more than a bigger soapbox, you’re missing the point. Your participation should be as valuable for your customers as it is for you.
Final thought. Important conversations about your business are most likely happening around you and about you already. For a quick gauge, just type your company name, your industry and the word “blogs” into your favorite search engine. No matter what you find, it’s yours to manage.
A view on Life Sciences marketing
Larry Weber, Chairman, W2 Group
There’s plenty of evidence that confirms what most of us already knew in our gut: more and more Americans use the Internet to gather information on medical conditions, products and services. A June 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of American adults look online for this type of information. And social networks are a growing part of the equation.
While I understand why companies may be fearful of violating FDA rules and regulations in this environment, it will probably take years before the FDA lands on a “final” set of guidelines. So what can be done in the meantime? There are ways life sciences marketers can bring their organizations into the realm of social networks while minimizing their legal liabilities. As with everything else on the social web, the key is complete transparency in all communications. Make sure you provide full and factual information on the benefits and risks of all therapies, being careful to remain compliant with existing legal and regulatory issues.
Another view on Life Sciences marketing
David S. Williams III, Chief Marketing Officer, PatientsLikeMe, Inc
At minimum, you owe it to yourself to be listening in on social networks to see how patients view and talk about your products. Not doing this is just irresponsible. Plus, you need to make sure this type of monitoring is being undertaken in a measurable, routine way. Consider the nearly obsessive manner in which pharma companies control their clinical trial data. Now apply that to the type of real-world data that can be gleaned from social networks, where patients share their opinions and experiences. What do you get out of this approach? At the most basic level, information from patients can help improve your product offerings. Taken further, life sciences companies can include patients as partners in the treatment development process by seeking their experience, outcomes and opinions – all of which are being shared in social networks today.
Join the Debates
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