10 Things You Should Know About Social Media

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Well, I can’t believe it’s only a few hours before Christmas (what happened to the rest of this year?), so it’s probably too late for a corny “12 Days of Christmas” pharma parody and there’s no point in trying to out do Ellen Hoenig’s very eloquent “T’was The Night Before #FDASM“. So instead, I thought I’d share “10 Things You Should Know About Social Media (But Are Often Overlooked)” as a countdown to Christmas.

Basically, it’s just a list of thoughts and ideologies that I feel are important — but often overlooked — fundamentals of social media that I have come to learn and understand over the course my time and involvement in the social media culture. Those of you who have heard/seen some of my recent presentations will recognize these 10 ideologies, as I’ve added them to the end of my talks of late.

  1. It’s NOT a magic pill or the holy grail
  2. It will only serve to amplify — not rectify
  3. It humanizes your corporate brand — act like a human
  4. It’s a commitment — not a campaign.
  5. Your biggest investment will be your time and resources
  6. It does not replace face-to-face — it enhances and supplements it!
  7. Time to stop convincing — time to start compelling
  8. Bring booze to the party — don’t be a mooch
  9. Empower your audience — and earn their trust
  10. Set  Expectations  Xplicitly!

While some (all?) of them may seem rather cliche, I do think they speak to issues that are often lost in the hype when people think about social media. And more than at any other time that I’ve heard many of these issues brought up, these ideologies rang most true to me during the closing un-conference session at the recent Digital Pharma conference (read about it here and here), where many of these topics were brought up, discussed, mulled around, and ruminated. So here’s a bit more detail for each one:

#1 It’s NOT a magic pill or the holy grail
The problem with getting caught up in the social media hype is that we sometimes forget: It’s NOT the answer to everything. It won’t solve all your problems or turn your mediocre product/marketing into something that it isn’t (see point #2). For more, read Tara Hunt’sYour Social Media Strategy Won’t Save You” presentation from the 2009 Web 2.0 Expo in NYC.

#2 It will only serve to amplify — not rectify
Again, social media isn’t going to save you if you have bad staff, bad marketing, bad product, etc. IN FACT, it’s quite the opposite. Be prepared for an amplification of the perceptions of what already exists…Good OR bad. If you want a positive amplification, then you need to work for it and put effort into what you’re doing to make it better. It’s about genuine, authentic responsibility and relationships with your customers. Not just another sales pitch.

#3 It humanizes your corporate brand — act like a human
A big part of social media is turning cold corporate walls into warm blooded humans. Humans that connect. It’s a very different medium and culture from traditional media, so instead of trying to squeeze the square social media peg into the round traditional hole, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t just take the traditional “corporate voice” and copy-and-paste it into your social media channel — a sales pitch or a speech doesn’t belong in a conversation. For more, read Chris Brogan’s great post on “What Human Business And the Social Web Are About“.

#4 It’s a commitment — not a campaign
This is another one about NOT treating social media like we do traditional media campaigns. The long-drawn build up to launch is not where the hard work and big efforts come in to play. It’s AFTER launch that you really need to put a lot of work and nurture the initiative; monitoring, reviewing, responding, adjusting, etc. See David Armano‘s great diagram and blog post for more insight.

#5 Your biggest investment will be your time and resources
As mentioned in #4, it’s not just a one time deal and, just like in any relationship, the biggest effort happens AFTER you meet. The build up before the meeting was just a preface to the hard work that makes any commitment or relationship really work. So make sure you plan for the resources that are required for the post-launch activities ahead of time! There’s no sitting back and waiting to see how a relationship turns out.

#6 It does not replace face-to-face — it enhances and supplements it!
I believe one of the biggest misconceptions that exists about social media is that it’s about a bunch of geeks online all the time, conversing through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. However, what many people fail to realize is that social media actually drives and multiplies the opportunities for face-to-face interactions. Look at all the tweetups, meetups, podcamps, foocamps, unconferences, etc, etc. that surrounds new and social media. We love meeting the people we meet online. The technology that drives social media just ends up being a conduit for human interaction and in turn propels us to want to make real world, face-to-face, human connections!

#7 Time to stop convincing — time to start compelling
OK, so this one’s borrowed from the summary of Web MD’s 2009 Health Forum. It’s about doing those (sometimes intangible) things that your customers will feel compelled to tell others about in a positive way.
It’s not about occupying a “new category” for your brand in the mind of your customers. It’s about connecting with their hearts and bringing them value, trust, and authenticity.

#8 Bring booze to the party — don’t be a mooch
Another borrowed statement… This one is a slightly altered version of something I once heard Chris Brogan say: “Bring wine to the picnic“. Basically, this really speaks to the need to start thinking about what value we bring to our customers. Ask not what they can do for you (and your profits), but what you can do for them. Create value for them and they will thank you for it…And sing your praises.Ties in very closely with #7.

#9 Empower your audience — and earn their trust
This follows on from #8. If you really want to do well with social media, you need to give your customers the ability to amplify your positive value in their lives. Just look at the Obama presidential election “Social Media Toolkit” (PDF link to Edelman whitepaper) for the many ways that the audience had opportunities to raise their own voices, share it with others, and evangelize their party. However, it’s important that you need to earn your customers trust first, before asking them to do anything. Remember, #8 — bring value first. Otherwise, they will have no reason to sing your praises.

#10 Set Expectations Xplicitly!
Finally, I end with the idea of setting expectations with your customers (I purposefully left off the “E” on “Explicitly” — makes for a better acronym ;-) ). This is probably the single most important thing for any corporate entity engaging in social media, especially if there are limitations for how a social platform has to be implemented, due to legal/regulatory issues, etc. By first telling your customers what to expect, you have transparently allowed them to understand the framework that you are working in. See the JNJBTW, GSK’s “More Than Medicine“, and AZ’s “Health Connections” blogs for examples of their frankness about their approach to blogging within the regulated pharma industry. Don’t let the purists or trolls make you think that social media is an all or nothing activity (see my comment on that here).

Phew… That was longer than I expected (Wow — it’s almost Christmas!). But I thought it was worth noting some of the details down for each of my 10 ideologies. To end this post, I thought I’d leave you with a video that was nicely put together by the guys from DigiRedo (including my co-blogger, Erik) from the 3rd Annual Digital Pharma conference, where  you can hear comments around the event itself and the “unconference” approach/principles that we tried to infuse into the entire meeting — enjoy…

[pro-player width='400' height='275' type='video']http://vimeo.com/7649490[/pro-player]

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 FDASM.com — 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

FDA Launches Twitter Feed and Calls for Public Hearing on Social Media & Internet

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In case you haven’t already heard, the two big pieces of news in the Social Pharmer world (over the last couple of weeks) both have to do with the FDA…

FDA Launches Official Twitter Feed

Firstly, the FDA launched it’s official Twitter feed on Sept 11th: @FDA_Drug_Info. You can find their Twitter information page here, which includes information on “Available Twitter Feeds” (I’m guessing that means they’re planning more than one Twitter feed in the future) and associated disclaimers. Not surprisingly (I guess), their disclaimer states “We are not able to respond to replies or direct messages. Please do not reply to tweets with any private, personal, or proprietary information. Send questions, comments to: druginfo@fda.hhs.gov or call 1-888-INFO-FDA“, which means that — for them — Twitter is merely another channel for disseminating information via one-way communications — not a medium for interaction or conversation.

While social media “purists” may call this heresy, I think it’s a reasonable initial approach (though they did launch FDArecalls a few months back) and even encouraging that they have at least taken the first step to try it out for themselves. However, others may refer to it as the Irony of Ironies, since we are all painfully aware of the fact that industry guidelines (currently) DO NOT exist for even the Internet, let alone social media. We’ll see how things evolve in the near future.

FDA Calls for Open Hearing on Social Media and Internet
Speaking of evolution…

In a surprise announcement last week (SEP 18th), the FDA filed a Notice of Public Hearing “…to discuss issues related to the promotion of FDA-regulated medical products (including prescription drugs for humans and animals, prescription biologics, and medical devices) using the Internet and social media tools“. The hearing will be held on NOV 12-13, 2009 in Washington, D.C. Here’s more from the notice…

FDA is seeking participation in the public hearing and written comments from all interested parties, including, but not limited to, consumers, patients, caregivers, health care professionals, patient groups, Internet vendors, advertising agencies, and the regulated industry. This meeting and the written comments are intended to help guide FDA in making policy decisions on the promotion of human and animal prescription  drugs and biologics and medical devices using the Internet and social media tools. FDA is seeking input on a number of specific questions but is interested in any other pertinent information participants in the hearing would like to share.

While this announcement may be surprising to many, it’s been something that folks like John Mack have long asked for and discussed over the course of the last few months (it was also a big topic at the Social Pharmer Unconference earlier this year), as social media started to rise in popularity within the industry.

As you can imagine, the announcement has also drawn a lot of interest and chatter from the Social Pharmer crowd and here are some links to what are being said around it:

  1. Ignite Blog: BREAKING NEWS: The FDA calls for a public hearing to discuss promotion of FDA-regulated medical products using the Internet and social media tools (NOTE: this is where I heard it first)
  2. Pharma Marketing News: Pharma Influence Over 3rd-Party Conversations in Social Media
  3. Eye on FDA: FDA to Hold Part 15 Hearing on Social Media and Pharma – Finally!
  4. Walking the Path Blog: Why Non-Pharma Marketers Should Care About the FDA Public Hearing on Drug Promotion & Social Media
  5. Impactiviti Blog: Coming Up: A Big Week in Pharma Social Media

If you’re interested (and you should be) in following the conversation on this topic, the hashtag that has been established is #fdaSM. And if you’re thinking about playing a more active role in this, you should (1) read and take John Mack’s survey, (2) read Mark Senak’s blog on “What Companies Should Do Between Now and The Part 15 Hearing on Social Media“, and (3) register to attend the event in NOV at regulations.gov — see “How To Register for FDA’s Part 15 Meeting on Social Media” for help.

Digital Marketing Conference Barcelona – Socially Challenged Pharma

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We all know Social Marketing is the Next Big Thing. Or at least, that’s what we are all saying to each other. Making each other believe that the era of the 4/5/6 P’s is finally over. And of course Big Pharma can not stay behind forever. In a relatively short period the content of pharma congresses has changed dramatically. Two years ago a typical pharma marketing congress dealt with eDetailing, brand management and CRM systems. Now it’s about communities, Twitter, authenticity and transparency. Finally.

It was the first attempt for EXL Pharma to enter the ‘Old World’ with their Digital Pharma congress. Already an established event in the States, they now found the time right to see whether the Europeans are like-minded in the exciting area of new/social/digital media in pharma. And it seems that they are not the only one, by the way. This year alone we have been contacted by two other congress organizations which are planning to enter this space as well. It’s an interesting area to be in right now, especially when you have a story to tell.

We just returned from Barcelona (raining for two days, bummer!) and we look back to -in our view- a succesful first event organized by EXL. Of course not all things were perfect, it usually isn’t – especially when you do it for the first time. But I have to admit that Jason Youner and Bryan Main did a good job in pulling this thing off. Kudos go to them.

Now, let’s dive a bit into the program. I won’t cover all presentations, only the ones which were truly remarkable for me. For the Twitter feed with all tweets during the conference I refer to the EXL website with the Cover It Live feed (or search Twitter with #digitalpharma)

Old skool
EXL’s Digital Pharma Europe was organized in Barcelona on March 30 and 31. See for the full program here. The morning of the first day was reserved for a workshop entitled ‘Successfully integrating Digital Media into the Overall Marketing Mix’. Sam Trujillo, Director of Marketing Women’s Health explained in a three hour session the view of Bayer Schering on the way to engage with digital media in the marketing mix. Apart from the fact that a workshop usually involves ‘working’ and we didn’t do more than just listening, I did not find his story appealing and at it’s place at this event. His story was mainly focussing on digital media (fair enough) but it looked like the process he was presenting very much described the traditional approach of pharma companies using media: to stay in control. Seriously, I just do not think that putting your commercials on YouTube will generate a lot of traffic towards your channels. Who on earth is going to watch voluntarely a commercial of a pharma company, including the usual fair balance BS? It’s just not the channel for that.

The rest of the day was reserved for more Social Media stuff. So did Jeff Hithcock from ‘Children With Diabetes‘ (CWD) a touching presentation on his social network for parents and children with diabetes. Once started as a virtual space he created for his daughter suffering from diabetes, now a huge online community for thousands of diabetes children. Recently J&J acquired CWD. It’s not clear to me however what’s in it for J&J.

Pharma going social
Another great presentation was from Heidi Youngkin, Executive Director Global Marketing at J&J. She held an informative and engaging talk on her ‘Social Media Adventures’ within J&J. Intruiging to see that a pharma company is already that advanced. No doubt the fact that J&J is a huge company with a lot of FMCG might help, but still. I’m sure that her guidelines will be used as a ‘golden standard’ and reference frame within more pharma companies (I saw a lot of people making notes, since her presentation was not available online). Interestingly J&J started slowly with a blog about the history of the company (nice and safe). After they gained sufficient experience with this new medium they introduced a blog more specifically targeted towards their end users and dealing with more complex subjects. Now they have entered the third stage, going beyond blogs such as participating in the beforementioned community CWD. During the rest of the conference J&J was quoted and cited as ‘Best Practices’ on several occassions.

The first day finished by a lively panel discussion moderated by Len Starnes, Head of Digital Marketing & Sales General Medicine at Bayer Schering. The panel discussion covered the paradigm shift of web 2.0 in the pharma world. Or should we say how pharma lives in the past not using (some of) these technologies. Interestingly it turned out that the FDA was present as well. Silently sitting in the back of the room, observing how Big Pharma is struggling with this paradigm shift. It sure is a pitty they (or anybody else for that matter) didn’t take the opportunity to start the conversation. And where were the European authorities?

Doctors and communities
Len must have done a great deal with EXL ;-) because the next day he kicked-off the second day of the event with his presentation entitled ‘Healthcare Professionals’ Social Networks – The Beginning of the End of Pharma Marketing As We Know It’. We’ve met Len at several other congresses and it’s always good to listen to his vision on digital marketing within Big Pharma. This time he gave a sound overview of all possible social networks available for the HCP (Health Care Professional). Although a few big players (Sermo and MedScape) there is still room for niche players like Ozmosis for example. And what about Europe? Well, it seems that Doctors.net.uk and DocCheck Faces are the biggest players on our continent but they will soon face competition by the Powerhouse Sermo which intends to introduce here in the not so distant future. Main question of course is how Big Pharma can participate in these communities. Sermo has a partnership with Pfizer, so is this the way to go? Len was firm in his statement that the pharma industry should observe, research, engage and discuss, but under no circumstances should hard sell. He also did a small poll on LinkedIn which showed that 86% of his network believes that Social Networks will have an impact on pharma marketing within the near future.

Enterprise 2.0 and innovation in Pharma

My presentation was next, talking about the internal use of Social Media in the light of innovation in marketing services. I am always surprised to see that an entire industry just jumps on the bandwagon of using social media for external use and just forgets that they first have to deal with yet another -equally important- community: their employees. Why is it that I can’t find more about my colleagues in Outlook’s address book other than their name, telephone number and office number whereas when I check on Facebook and LinkedIn I can find half of their life? Why is it that even a New Media Specialist is blocked access to YouTube at the office because she ‘might watch YouTube videos all day long’? Get seriouss, executives. Wake up in a new world and embrace yourself for the entrance of the digital natives, people who are actually used to share information with each other (and are hence not afraid to lose their ‘power’ when they do). Or read this for a change. We want to create a common platform within our organization where employees can find our internal blog, wikis, podcasts and share ideas. And if that means that we have to pull-in some people screamin’ and kickin’, so it is. Change is never without some pain.

YouTube genius
Yet another great presentation was from Kevin Nalty, Marketing Director Dermatology at a large pharma company which name could not be revealed but starts with an ‘M’ and ends with ‘erck’. Besides his serious job he moonlights as an official YouTube Comedian. His website Willvideoforfood is described as ‘a blog for online video, advertising, viral marketing, consumer generated media and blatant self-promotion’. Don’t know if he really needs a site doing all this since he’s one of the top-10 most viewed YouTube comedians with more than 750 videos seen in excess of 60 million times. He even wrote an e-book ‘How To Become Popular On YouTube Without Any Talent’. Well, I don’t have to explain you that we 100% agree with his vision about the power of video in communication. What we do differ in opinion is that although content is still king, form is becoming more and more important. By that I mean that the basic elements of filming should be carried out well (e.g. sound, lightning, basic rules of camera movement). That doesn’t mean that I think one should make a slick commercial. Please don’t. Some ‘rough edges’ gives it most of the time a bit more genuine look. But I will skip videos where the sound quality is poor, even if they have a nice story to tell.

Now, online video is exploding: Pharma, wake up and start using it!

The last presentation was an overview of the possibilities Google has to offer big Pharma. Interesting in that respect is Google.org, a CSR initiative of Google helping the community with their innovative concepts.

A quick wrap up ended the Digital Pharma Congress in Barcelona. Main take home messages of the audience (well, from people who actually dared to shout it out loud):


That last point was not put in by me, but most probably due to me…

The future
I think it was a good start for such an event. I hope that for next congresses dealing with this subjects participation of European authorities is paramount since they are the gatekeepers of communication possibilities within our industry. Compared to the US Europe is different in that respect, also because we (still) have many different local authorities which can play and are playing according to their rules. The market is changing, people are getting more informed. The question is which information they use in order to get informed, and to what respect the quality of information is improved if Pharma can participate in the discussion. Pharma on the other hand should take it’s responsibility too, by being open and transparent about their products and claims. Pharma is low on the trust-scale, time to open up and fix that. Looking to the people in the audience I have the feeling that Pharma is ready for it. Now authorities, give them the opportunity to do so.

Stay tuned, soon I will post my presentation including the video online.

A Week (or 2) of Industry Launches: YouTube,Web 2.0, MedPedia, and Twitter…

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Over the last 2 weeks or so — including the time I was away at ePharma Summit — there were quite a few interesting launches and developments that I haven’t gotten around to blogging about yet, so in the spirit of catching up, I thought I’d summarize them here…

AZ and Sanofi Aventis launch YouTube channels


As mentioned in a previous post, YouTube seems to be the “channel of choice” (pardon the pun) when it comes to pharma adoption of new media. So I guess it should come as no surprise that two more big pharma’s launched YouTube Channels last week…

Firstly, AstraZeneca launched the My Asthma Story YouTube Channel, which complements it’s Symibcort-focused My Asthma Story Website and encourages people who have been “diagnosed with asthma, and prescribed SYMBICORT” to submit a video clip of their asthma story (see submission guidelines) — “Everyone with asthma has a story to tell. We’d like to hear yours“.

Also, Sanofi Aventis launched the Go Insulin YouTube Channel, to complement their GoInsulin.com Website, which features “insulin success stories” (video clips). Unlike AZ however, Sanofi doesn’t mention/promote any products on the page (just the company logo) and doesn’t asking for patient submissions at this time. Compared to the AZ site, Sanofi has also done a really nice job in designing the YouTube and GoInsulin.com websites – great visual appeal, IMHO.

The interesting thing about these two launches is that they both took a similar approach of using a traditional website to complement a YouTube channel and drive their audiences bi-directionally between the two; almost like the YouTube channel was just an extension of their video-filled website, but obviously with much greater mass appeal and reach. But what’s even more interesting to me is that (to my knowledge) MyAstmaStory is the first pharma YouTube channel to carry a product brand (Symbicort), which in my mind, indicates that pharma is getting more comfortable with this medium as a promotional channel, including their legal and regulatory teams.

With online video being the fastest growing medium for consumer consumption for several years in a row, and Google’s smart moves to enable YouTube channel administrators to control some of the “social features” (e.g. comments, embedding, etc.) , I’m not at all surprised to see more and more pharma companies jump on the YouTube bandwagon… In fact, I only expect to see more.

For more details on the two launches, read the EyeOnFDA Blog by Mark Senak, who stays abreast of health and pharma YouTube activities and even aggregates these health/pharma related YouTube videos on his own EyeOnFDA YouTube Channel.

Feds Also Adopting Social Media

Not to be outdone by all the pharma activity on YouTube, it looks like federal agencies — like HHS, CDC, FDA — are also starting to get on the new/social media train. Firstly, according to Nextgov.com

The federal government is on the verge of reaching an agreement with YouTube that would allow agencies to make official use of the popular video-sharing service. A coalition of federal agencies led by the General Service Administration’s Office of Citizen Services has been negotiating… on new terms that would allow agencies to establish their own channels on the site.

For some interesting commentary on this, read this EyeOnFDA blog post — here’s a quote:

Adding YouTube to the communications menu of the federal government has a number of ramifications. First, one hopes that they do it right. CDC and FDA are examples of two agencies who are there, but their channels are irregular and the editorial framework is unclear. FDA, in particular, has a bunch of channels and it is difficult to know what will be posted where.

And if you think that’s as progressive as the Feds get, then think again… As it turns out, they’ve been involved with Web 2.0 and Social Media for a while now. For example, the HHS/CDC had a booth at the Podcast and New Media Expo in 2007, the CDC had an open discussion focusing on Social Networks, Blogs and other Web 2.0 Apps in 2008, and Miguel Goemz and Fred Smith from HHS even spoke at the 2008 New Media Expo about their use of Web 2.0 for AIDS.gov (see interview at bottom of post here).

More recently however, it seems like the Feds have become even more active in the social media space, with the launch of a Twitter account for FDA recalls (@FDArecalls) and even an active Twitter representative in the form of Andrew P. Wilson (@AndrewPWilson), who is a “Member of HHS social media team” (according to his profile). Who knew the HHS had a social media team??? Anyway, despite all that, nothing could have prepared me for this… the Social Media Tools for Consumers and Partners – a webpage that describes all their scoial media activities, including blogs, email subscriptions, Health e-cards, mobile info, and online video. Wow!

For a great take on the whole Feds and social media thing, read Jonathan Richman‘s Dose of Digital blog post (and follow the links to previous stuff he’s written). He’s got great insight and commentary on the entire situation.

Medpedia Launches

Earlier this week, Medpedia — a new medical wiki — was launched with the support of its founding partners: Havard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, University of California Berkely School of Public Health, and University of Michigan Medical School. According to the website…

The Medpedia Project is a long-term, worldwide project to evolve a new model for sharing and advancing knowledge about health, medicine and the body among medical professionals and the general public. This model is founded on providing a free online technology platform that is collaborative, interdisciplinary and transparent. Read more about the model.

Users of the platform include physicians, consumers, medical and scientific journals, medical schools, research institutes, medical associations, hospitals, for-profit and non-profit organizations, expert patients, policy makers, students, non-professionals taking care of loved ones, individual medical professionals, scientists, etc.

If Wikipedia is any inidcation of how powerful and successful a well designed and maintained wiki can be, then I have to agree with Mark Senak’s post about the importance of Medpedia in the future, where it may become tops in organic Google search for medical and health related terms, just as we seem to see now with many Wikipedia definitions

The question is: Will the right people be engaged and willing enough to spend time “maintaining the Medpedia garden” in order for it to become the dominant medical/health reference of the future? Perhaps… I think it definitely stands a chance just looking at the number of Health Professional articles on Google’s Knol and videos on YouTube. Read EyeOnFDA’s report on this which also has a great audio interview with the founder and head of Medpedia, James Currier.

Pharma’s Tweeting…

Twitter has been growing like Jack’s beanstalk lately. In fact, it grew by 752% in 2008. So it’s probably no surprise that a lot of companies are also jumping on board, including pharma and biotech. Up till recently, the only two pharma’s I knew of that use Twitter as official communications channel are @novartis and @Boehringer. I also recently discovered that AstraZeneca (US) has a Twitter account (@AstraZenecaUS), though their udpates seem to be pretty sparse at the time of writing. In addition to all that, J&J also recently launched an official account, @JNJcomm, just last week. Previously, Marc Monseau (Editor of JNJBTW.com) had a personal twitter account, so it was not an official channel.

While there’s not as much control on Twitter account settings as YouTube has for it’s channels, I can only imagine that more pharma companies are going to be jumping on board the Twitter-train sooner rather than later. How they use it to engage, on the other hand, is going to vary greatly from company to company. At the very least, I see companies setting up accounts as “listening posts”, but others may choose to engage, like @boehringer does in an informal manner. Whatever the case, Twitter is fast becoming the new dominant space for listening and/or engaging with the community.

Motrin Marketing Feels the Pain and the Power of Social Media

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If you haven’t heard about the HUGE #MotrinMoms furor that erupted this past weeekend, then you must not have seen the multitude of tweets, blogs, and YouTube videos that escalated and intensified throughout Sunday (NOV 16), culminating in the Motrin.com website going down by Sunday evening (“Network Error” message).

In brief, J&J/McNeil Consumer Healthcare rolled out an online video on the brand website for Motrin.com, which over course of a day, infuriated what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Here’s a video that was “inspired” by all the negative comments…


I’m not sure exactly when the offensive Motrin video was launched, but it was picked up on Sunday by some “mommy bloggers”, who then spread the word through Twitter and within hours, it spread far and wide enough to generate a HUGE negative response and viral backlash towards Motrin and J&J/McNeil — some even calling for a boycott of the brand. Although the website finally went down (or got pulled???) by Sunday evening, it was already too late, as the video was uploaded to YouTube for “permanent preservation” in the halls of infamy. You can also see screenshots of the ad on the Small Dots blog.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a parent, so I probably didn’t take as much offense to the ad as many other folks did, but I can definitely see their point of view.

I watched the whole event transpire throughout Sunday and it was probably one of the most impressive examples of the power of social media that I have seen unfold in front of my eyes…

The key source of conversation and spread was Twitter, which then lead to an escalation of negative blog postings, and then YouTube video responses (and it continues to grow). You can see the aggregation of Twitter streams using the #MotrinMoms and/or #Motrin hashtags, which by the way, was getting tweets by the hundreds every few mintues.

On the positive side, it appears that the VP of Marketing at McNeil has made an effort to reach out and apologize to some bloggers, but the damage may already have been done. Mind you, this was on a Sunday evening, though it’s probably no surprise that they got wind of the situation, as the fervor built over the course of the day, including some emails from folks I know personally to folks at McNeil.

So what’s my take on all this?

Well, I think the key take away from all this is that this is a case where NOT engaging in social media may actually have caused more harm to the brand than if one had engaged in social media, particularly among the target audience. And to now try to engage an audience that has even threatened to boycott your product, means having to climb a “barrier of trust” the size of Everest (or greater, depending on how they choose to respond).

At the very least, one could have engaged the influentials within the target audience (i.e. key mommy bloggers) and ask their opinion of the ad before it gets released to the wild… After all, almost anyone operating in this space will know the importance of mommy bloggers these days. Perhaps market research was done, but one has to remember that in traditional market research, WE are the ones asking the questions and controlling the conversation.

A key question that I was asked by a thought leader in the social media business was: …why didn’t they understand the momblogger audience better before they launched the campaign? and to that, I had to respond that it could possibly be due to “traditional pharma marketing” thinking — the marketing team is sold on an idea by their ad agency and only sees/hears what the agency tells them. Not sure if this is the case, but obviously the current breath of the outrage seems to indicate that even a small amount of social engagement/ interaction regarding the ad may have hinted to what might ensue.

Not to judge anyone at McNeil or their ad agency (apparently, Taxi NYC), but I would have thought a J&J company — if anyone — would have “got it” more than others, as J&J already has blogs, a YouTube Channel, and more. However, it’s a good wake up call to remind us that even the most seemingly harmless and well-intentioned concepts can go awry very quickly. And in this socially engaged and hyper-connected world, a negative message can spread much further and faster than you could ever imagine… Welcome to the Groundswell!

NOTE: Just before posting this, I noticed that the Motrin website is back up again, with an apology note posted in place of the video. Here’s what it says…

UPDATE  (11/18): Kathy Widmer (VP, Marketing @ McNeil) has also posted a response to all this via the J&J blog, JNNBTW.com. It is a good thing that they have already been engaging people through their blog and have offered a mea culpa response (they even start with “We hear you…“), as well as a solution for the future — a lesson that we all learned from JetBlue.

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