Commentary

Godin's Rule Is A Lot Like The Golden Rule -- But Wired

I put off a lot of planned work last weekend -- including my first approach to this post -- to tear through the new Seth Godin book, Linchpin. I'm glad I waited.

More on that after we talk about a fast-approaching feedback deadline that might affect us all.

The noon Feb. 28 deadline is for comments on hearings the Food and Drug Administration held this past November to help guide policy decisions on the promotion of medical products via the Internet and social media.

More than 800 people applied for the hearing in a room that seats just 350, Thomas Abrams, director of the FDA's direct marketing arm, told Reuters at the time.

As of the time of this writing, only 31 people have responded at regulations.gov. An additional 400 have reportedly weighed in through John Mack's blog.

Some company representatives, like Michele Sharp, the senior director of U.S. regulatory affairs for Eli Lilly, said in November testimony that they're waiting on regulations covering this territory before they proceed with any active social media endeavors.

"... Lilly has avoided significant interaction with healthcare professionals and patients about our products in social media forums, largely because of a lack of clarity of understanding FDA's expectations as to how we could participate and how we could comply with the FDA requirements."

But the more I think about it, the more I keep thinking, "Who cares?"

If a company -- and I'm certainly NOT saying this is the goal of Eli Lilly -- wants to merely peddle half-truths and misinformation via social media, then yes, pending regulations do matter. A lot.

However, if they want to truly leverage the amplification power of social media, then whatever the FDA rules shouldn't mean a damn thing to their core approach.

While Godin's Linchpin has many great nuggets of wisdom, this one really spoke to me as it pertains to the approach pharmaceutical companies and others take with social media:

"The new media rewards ideas that resonate. It helps them spread. If your work persuades, you prosper. And the new media punishes those who mislead. We have ever more refined truth-telling cues, and if you don't believe in what you're doing, we'll know, and you will fail. Honest signals are the only signals that travel."

That, to my ear, came across like the social media version of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," except better, because unlike with the Golden Rule, you don't have to wait until after the rule breakers leave this life to see justice served. (Sorry, Mr. Godin, that last part was my lizard brain talking. I'm still learning.)

Certainly, if people want to mislead, they can attempt to do so. And this might prove to be an effective, if shady, short-term policy. However, with the ever-expanding list of tools that are enabling larger and larger groups of people to form more trusted networks, the long-term risks to companies who play with this fire are growing, too.

While it wasn't regarding a drug or a device maker, I was pleasantly surprised and proud to see the effect of these "truth-telling cues" when I tweeted a blog post titled "Disney to give back money parents spent on Baby Einstein videos." My Twitter account updates my Facebook status, and that's where I was witness to the power of this effect.

Responses of true gratitude came back to me such as, "Oh, thank goodness; we received a few of those as gifts ..." and "Good to know! I have to tell my sister."

Now imagine if this was about a dangerous drug. The reactions would be even stronger. I would also be even more appreciated by my network for potentially saving their or their loved one's lives.

The pharmaceutical company's long-term loss would be my short- AND long-term gain, all because of the company's short-sighted understanding of social media.

And the knowledge of what it missed out on should provide more of a guide than any thick book of regulations ever could.

1 comment about "Godin's Rule Is A Lot Like The Golden Rule -- But Wired".
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  1. R.J. Lewis from e-Healthcare Solutions, LLC, February 26, 2010 at 6:08 p.m.

    With all due respect Chad, I think you are simplifying Pharma's plight. The industry is a highly regulated industry with clear guidelines around things like the inclusion of fair balance and important safety information (often lengthy) when ever a brand name and indication are used together. However, the guidelines are radically out of date and don't cover the many nuances and instances that can occur in today's world of online communication.

    Pharma is painfully aware they are missing out on the dialogue and they WANT to join the conversation. It pains them that they have regulatory duct tape over their mouths right now. No one wants to ignore their customers.

    Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to provide real time excellent customer service. Pharma knows their customers want (and need) information about their products and how and when to use them. However, pharma needs guidance and clarity on the rules. The industry is very highly regulated with much to lose if they break the rules.

    In April, the same FDA that has neglect to update the rules as the world has changed considerably, sent out 14 warning letters to pharma companies citing rule violations for some 60 brands. This was in response to a tactic that had been employed online for almost a decade without a prior peep from FDA!

    Industry went "out on a limb" many years ago with the adoption and acceptance of the "one-click (assumed) rule" in a world of text character count limitations and easy access to deeper information with just the click of a mouse on a link. This "assumed rule" (assumed in an effort to communicate in new and different media w/out clear guidance on how to do it) evolved by industry trying in good faith to "interpret the old rules" into the context of a new medium.

    Apparently the FDA didn't like their interpretation. It took almost a decade for the FDA to actually come out and say they disagreed, but they voiced a very loud objection this past April. Like a parent who leaves a child to make their own decisions and then erupts in anger when they don't like those decisions, industry will become ultra conservative in the face of an unpredictable or uninterpretable set of rules from government.

    Unfortunately, the consumer (in addition to both industry and government) looses as a result. The next major move will likely have to come from the FDA. The world and communication as we know it has changed and the rules require clarification and adaptation.

    Pharma very much wants to communicated with its customers. They would like nothing more than for the FDA to take the duct tape off and let them speak to their customers without fear of repercussion.

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