Twitter in Pharma – Interview with John Pugh (Boehringer)

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At the last DigiPharm congress in London we spoke to John Pugh, Director Corporate and External Communications at Boehringer Ingelheim. John is well known for bringing Boehringer into the Twittersphere, and has quiet some success with that initiative. Using Twitter to communicate with journalists -his primary target in his role as External Communicator- he “can establish a dialogue with them”, according to John himself.

John started in the new/social media space about ten years ago, the time that websites were still written in Comic Sans. You could call John a real internet veteran, in that respect. During DigiPharm 2009 he shared his vision of the future of pharma, and the role new media will have.

In our interview John talks about his passion for new media and the challenges pharma is facing when deploying new media into their communication mix. John is a firm believer of new media and focusses in the opportunities rather than the threats, like we see way too often around us. We need more johns….

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View the original video here.

Live from DC – It’s the FDA Open Forum on Internet and Social Media

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*UPDATED: Day 1 & 2 Hearing Summaries and Resources

The next 2 days (NOV 12-13) marks a VERY significant occasion in the history of social media in pharma. By that, of course, I mean that it’s the kick off to the FDA Open Hearing on Internet and Social Media — the first of it’s kind since 1996! Of course, it was just “Internet” back then — social media didn’t exist as we know it today.

The biggest irony of this meeting on INTERNET and SOCIAL MEDIA is that there’s no wifi connection or cell phone reception (the meeting room is 2 floors underground), so no one there will be able to live tweet/blog the meeting, but at least it’s an open forum. Whatever the case, those of us watching the live webcast will be live-tweeting (because we have wifi! :) ) using the hashtag #FDASM, so look out for those.

Click image for live webcast on NOV 12-13

There’s already been bevy of write-ups and resources surrounding this, so rather than write my take on it, I’m going to point to several of these so that you can get a variety of viewpoints and information…


First and foremost, if you have only one resource to turn to, then you must go to — a site put together by Fabio Gratton (Ignite Health), which aggregates a lot of key information around the event, including: speakers, panelists, agenda, links to the webcast, a live tweet-stream, and (most importantly) a list of logos from supporting groups/people, which there are plenty! In addition to that, here are some links to great information surrounding this historic event:
UPDATE (Nov 12th, 2009): Day 1 Summaries and New Links/Resources…
UPDATE (Nov 13th, 2009): Day 2 or Overall Hearing  Summaries/Links/Resources…

Wordle: #fdasm FDA & Social Media Twitter Stream Nov 12-13

Astra Zeneca Launches Corporate Blog: AZ Health Connections

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If you haven’t heard yet, Astra Zeneca US launched a new corporate blog last week, called “AZ Health Connections“; thus being the third (active) corporate pharma blog online that I know of… and GSK’s More Than Medicine, being the other two.

There’s been a number of blog “reviews” and comments about the launch of this new AZ blog and, while you would have expected lots of congratulatory remarks towards taking another step in the world of social media (they also have a Twitter feed: AstraZenecaUS), it turns out that some comments are not exactly positive so far. You can read a summary of some early commentary in Jim Edwards’ BNET article and here are some additional quotes from various sources:

BNET: AstraZeneca’s New Blog Is Slammed by Critics
The criticisms are harsh given that AZ blog editor Earl Whipple has still got his training wheels on… However, the haters do have a point when it comes to pharma company blogs generally: Firms shy away from controversy but controversy is the blogosphere’s raison d’être. unable to overcome that central contradiction, pharma blogs are often pallid affairs.’s First Corporate Blog Falls Flat
So far there have been no comments on the AZ blog. Besides the introductory post, the blog offers only company-line stances on FDA social media regulation and healthcare reform. If content can’t generate the type of product discourse pharma companies are looking for, perhaps a new approach to social media is needed to educate customers in an ethical and productive way.

EyeOnFDA: AstraZeneca Joins List of Corporate Bloggers
AZ indicates it is their desire to engage with the blog, but the early postings leave little upon which to engage.  For example, their posting on the Part 15 Social Media Meeting is purely informational about the meeting, but doesn’t provide a point of view of what AstraZeneca would say to FDA, either at the meeting or in comments posted to the docket.  Without that kind of substance, it is hard to engage.

So, as you can see, there are some doubts as to the “authentic” nature of the AZ blog, but I really like what Mark Senak (EyeOnFDA blog) wrote overall, as it’s more constructive than critical. In particular, I like what was written in the last sentence of his blog post: “But it is early yet, and this blog, like all blogs, needs time to find a voice and identify its parameters“.

IMHO, I think we are often too quick to judge and point out the negatives, usually to the detriment of any organization that is at least trying to take a step forward in this space. Many “experts” and opinionated individuals  often berate the pharma industry for not jumping-in and engaging in social media; yet when they try, they are often criticized for only taking baby steps and not doing the cannon ball straight into the deep end.

Personally, I think AZ’s blog is a great start. In fact, ANY start is a great start. I believe that with every initiative, there is an opportunity to learn, adapt, and evolve. Particularly with this industry, I’ve always said that it’s better to have dipped a toe and tested the waters, than jump right in and get shocked. From what I’ve seen in the past (especially on Twitter), many companies are only able to start out within a comfort-zone, but then over time, they slowly adapt and evolve as they (and their legal, regulatory, etc. colleagues) get more comfortable and more experience. Yes, it’s a bit of a “tortoise approach”, but remember — the tortoise wins the race :-) !

What really bothers me, is when “purists” and “antagonists” start criticizing new efforts for playing it safe (e.g. turning off comments for YouTube videos or reviewing blog comments before posting)…  As it is, an initiative like a corporate blog takes a lot of time, effort, planning, and approval before it can launch, never mind the need to justify it’s existence and purpose (“what’s the ROI for that???“). To then have a slew of negative comments/publicity hit you at your very first step, can only hinder progress or even scare some into shutting down altogether, thereby taking steps backward (the once-bitten feeling).

Instead, it would be helpful to have constructive advice like those that Mark provided in his blog — he blogs about what they did right:

In setting up their blog, AZ has done a few smart things.  They have a very detailed comments policy that was obviously put together by a fleet of lawyers.  They state that they reserve the right to edit or not publish some comments.  They also state that this blog is not the place for discussion of specific product issues.  But the smartest thing they did in my mind is to provide referrals for people if they do want to report a problem with a prescription product.  That is smart because at some point in the future, companies are going to be compelled to be more aggressive and proactive in adverse event reporting – so why not start now?  It is also smart because it reinforces the message that the blog is a platform for other discussion.  There is also an elaborate “Legal” tab.

And he also blogs about areas to improve upon (which may not be obvious to the authors):

A visible indication of possible multiple authors is the fact that the postings each have different fonts and spacing, indicating that they were drafted in Word somewhere and cut and pasted into the blog without stylizing consistently first.

Whatever the case, I hope that AZ (and any other current or future corporate blogs) will learn, adapt, and evolve through the feedback they receive and not shy away — the journey of a thousand miles (with plenty of hurdles along the way) :) .

I like that AZ has already responded to some of this negativity with a statement on their blog, showing that they are — at least — listening and responding:

AZ Health Connections: Pharma Blogs Face Unique Challenges
We are presented with some unique challenges  when it comes to mentioning specific products or disease states on our blog, but despite the critical headline, it’s also wrong for anyone to assume that this is how we want things to be… Can more be done to help provide accurate, balanced and timely information about our products, especially through social media channels? Yes, of course. But what the PharmaExec blog post labels as “close corporate scrutiny,” I see as responsibility.  While adding any extra level of “scrutiny” to the comments we receive may mean it will take longer for us to respond to a comment, this is how we will operate for now.

In the end, I leave you with a quote from my friend, Marc Monseau — the well respected editor of, which is probably the longest running and probably the most admired industry blog —  which I believe aptly sums up my thoughts on how this industry can move forward with social media… one step at a time:

JNJBTW: Healthcare Comapnies and theSocial Web (October, 2009)
And so what we have ended up doing in many cases is take some small steps to get more comfortable with getting involved. We are also making sure we have processes in place to handle adverse event reports and that we have responsible people involved who can respond quickly to questions… At the same time, projects like JNJBTW and the Johnson & Johnson health channel on YouTube are giving us some great experience.

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