Can Pharma Brands Do More Than Just 'Like' Social?

In her recent article (Medical Marketing & Media, Nov. 3, 2013) Zoe Dunn posed the question "should Pharma abandon social media?" Her premise was that, in a world where brand marketers change every 18 months, can there ever be enough commitment for long-term tactics such as social? And she is right, to a point. The trouble is that today, at least in the Pharma space, social media is still widely considered a tactical "nice to have."

Of course, regulatory issues don't help. Despite some FDA guidance, there is still enough uncertainty and room for interpretation to make our legal teams cautious. Indeed, some Pharma companies have blanket bans on using social media to mitigate risk. Basically, while everyone else is frolicking in the deep end of the social swimming pool, we are standing in the shallow end, with comments turned off, trying to persuade them to come over and play with us.  



But if we turn away from social completely, are we not also turning away from our customers? We all know that social is the number one activity on the web: globally, 80% of physicians use social sites to find and distribute content and YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18-34 years than any U.S. cable network. There is a mountain of facts to support why. But for the healthcare industry, the biggest question is “how?”

It is time to think differently about what it means to be social. We need to stop it being just a media buy or a tactical line-item on your marketing plan. Going forward, we need to be inspired by how people naturally behave and start thinking of social not as something you do, but something you are. Forget just social media, it's time to embrace the “social brand.”

A social brand doesn't just set up its own Facebook page, YouTube and Twitter channels for you to visit. Rather, it creates connections between content so it can be both findable and shareable. Not just from a technology point of view, but because it is so useful and valuable. It is also, to Dunn's point, always on. People live with their (and their patients') health every day, not in three-month blocks. By committing more attention to the social sphere, we can legitimately join in by providing content and tools that evolve with the conversation. Get it right, and your brand will not only fit into people’s lives, they will want it to be there.

The very lovely GE Focus Forward channel is one great example that lit up and engaged the film community. It contains a lot of exciting and, frankly, startling health content by 30 different directors. If you have three minutes and 40 seconds to spare, watch Ross Kaufman's extraordinary "Fire with Fire." The film tells the story of Dr Carl H. June's idea to fight cancer with the HIV virus (by the way if you think this is a spoiler, it really isn't). It’s amazing to watch and very shareable — whether you actually post the link or just tell someone. 

And that's the point: Social is so much more than posting advertising messages on Facebook. It is about other people sharing our important, interesting and, ultimately, helpful content in their own communities, timelines, blogs and pages. If we make sure that everything that we create is of value to the people who need help with their healthcare decisions, then we will stop having conversations about whether or not we should "do" some social media. Because when you become a social brand, all of your media becomes social.

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