Compliance Concerns? Maybe Focus On Curation

I had quite a day earlier this week. I spent the whole time working through social media opportunities and obstacles for pharma/medical professionals and financial advisors, two groups that have to deal with a fair share of regulations. And in the middle of it, I was pointed to a summary of a complaint filed with the FTC on "Online Health and Pharmaceutical Marketing that Threatens Consumer Privacy and Engages in Unfair and Deceptive Practices."

Whew! Talk about a string of ways to say no to social media! Suffice it to say, even though I work in Boston, I wasn't exactly screaming out the championship cry of Celtic Kevin Garnett "Anything is possible!!!"

However, another basketball icon, John Wooden, did rule the day for me. I often quote his famous line, "Never let what you can't do interfere with what you can do," but never did I feel like I needed that mentality more than I did that day.



As I perused the complaint -- filed by the Center for Digital Democracy, US PIRG, Consumer Watchdog and the World Privacy Forum -- a couple of thoughts sprang to mind:

"Is this a dire warning, or a how-to guide for advanced pharma marketing?"

"Who has the harder task -- patients looking for completely objective and unbiased medical information, or pharma marketers looking to do their jobs without running afoul of rules both written and yet-to-be-finalized by the FDA?"

The spirit of this complaint is that very smart digital marketing firms and pharma companies are collecting all kinds of information on current or potential customers, often without the audience knowing what's being collected about them. Many of the tactics highlighted are not unique to pharma marketing.

So since the FDA has yet to sort out exactly what pharma marketers can and can't do in social media, perhaps now would be a good time to focus on how marketers can "flip the script" and provide value to their audiences in a different way.

It's clear from this report that pharma marketers are amazingly efficient and effective at data aggregation for business purposes. It's also obvious from any Google search that there's a ton of information out there that people desperately need help sorting.

What if some of the computing muscle that often-faceless pharma marketers use to target their messaging was instead turned inside out? What if it was used to help potential audiences better find the information they're so desperately looking for, even if it comes from other sources besides the pharma company itself?

And even better, what if such a service had real faces and real names, so that the audience could develop a connection and a deeper level of trust with the brand?

I previously worked as a web producer for O'Reilly Media, a computer programming book publisher that some of you might know as the books with the ink-drawn animals on the cover. You might also know of O'Reilly for coining the phrase "Web 2.0."

The core business of O'Reilly, and its founder, Tim O'Reilly, is to sell books. But the business has also grown to include conferences and other ventures. At the core of this is the notion that O'Reilly is also in the business of ideas.

During my time there, I had the pleasure of watching Tim's early amusement and fascination with Twitter. I also got to watch as his Twitter following numbers steadily climbed and then exploded to the point where he's now one of the more influential users on the service.

In following his Twitter account, I've noticed he basically shares ideas: his own, those from people within and close to his company, and those of others who Tim just feels his audience would benefit from. This approach has made Tim a valued trust agent to many, adds value to O'Reilly Media, and has turned him into arguably the company's most effective marketing vehicle.

There are two key take-aways from this:

1) Each tweet doesn't take much time at all, and Tim makes time to do it regularly;
2) This approach is a model that CEOs or top researchers at pharma companies could easily adopt.

In terms of figuring out what to tweet, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do we sell?
  • What knowledge is required to make that product or service valuable?
  • How do we stay informed on latest developments?
  • Is there news on regulations that we could pass along?
  • Are there medical breakthroughs that could be shared with our audience that don't compromise our patents?
  • Are there touching/informative patient stories that we could share?
  • Are there alternate (non-pharma) treatment options for conditions we provide drugs for that our audience would appreciate knowing about?

Now imagine if some of that aforementioned computing power was put to helping curate and disseminate such information through Twitter or through other feeds or a clearly branded web site?

While no single piece of information would convince an audience that a pharma company didn't have ulterior motives, the eventual cumulative effect of providing such a service could convince many that the company is truly interested in the wellness of its customers.

Or put another way, it could serve as an ounce of digital prevention that might be easier to implement than pounds of cures.

1 comment about "Compliance Concerns? Maybe Focus On Curation ".
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  1. Eric Raymond from KBM Group, December 3, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    Most marketers assume that the efforts they make towards 'patient-centricity' are guided by altruistic efforts to create a win-win. In an ideal world, the largest marketers who can invest in a properly designed and properly regulated 1:1 marketing infrastructure will do so and reap the benefits. The challenge is mid-market pharma's and other healthcare marketers who are compelled to compete with the 'big boys', yet don't have the budget to insure the integrity of a properly executed 1:1 program. Those marketers may be better off using a permisson based approach with known customers/patients/members....while remaining fairly generic in their initial outreach efforts that still inspires the intial customer engagement. The marketer can only help after the initial engagement so a strong appeal is still required, with real-time decisioning built into the information provided back to the handraiser.

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