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.

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: 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 — see “How To Register for FDA’s Part 15 Meeting on Social Media” for help.

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 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 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

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 (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 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.

Twitter for Business: The Video…

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For those of you who missed the recent O’Reilly webcast on Twitter for Business (by Sarah Milstein), O’Reilly Media has now uploaded it to their YouTube Channel and I have also embedded it here in this post for easy viewing…

The webcast/video is another nice primer for beginners and for helping people understand how Twitter is adapted for use in big businesses and offers some great (and some often quoted) examples like: Comcast, Zappos, Starbucks, JetBlue, Whole Foods, Ford, etc.

At the end of her presentation, Milstein concludes with the following three points about Twittering for Business (which you’ve probably heard in previous Social Media presentations as well):

  1. Monitor buzz
  2. Engage customers
  3. Authentic & transparent

So, while there isn’t any real pharma or medicine based examples, it’s a great starting point if you need some real world examples and ideas for how Twitter is being used by businesses. Hope you find it useful.

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 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, 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, 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.

More Sources of Information/Updates

Twitter and Microblogging for Public Health (slides)

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So I’m still on the topic of Twitter…

And thanks to the power of Twitter and @hyblis, I found about this great set of slides on “Twitter and Microblogging for Public Health” (on Slideshare)…

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: twitter microblogging)

PF Anderson (author of the slides) does a great job of compiling an extensive collection of real-world examples, showing how people are using Twitter (and similar microsharing apps, such as Plurk) for health-related purposes. The key topics covered include: Twitter for productivity, Twitter for discovery, Twitter in health and healthcare, Twitter in public health, and Making Twitter work for you.

On top of all that, Anderson also shows a lot great health twitterers (Twits?) and a whole lot of Twitter-related apps that complement it, such as: Twittercal, FoodFeed, SugarStats, Qwitter, and Twemes, to name a few.

What a great demonstration of Twitter’s usefulness within the health-space; especially for a tool that some might consider “just another social networking app”. As you can see, it’s much more than that. We just have to “think outside the bun”, watch and see what others are doing, and do a little self discovery along the way. Let Twitter be your sandbox — now come build some casltes (or whatever else you can think of).

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