Could Pharma Host an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit (And Get Away with It?)

Following President Obama's "Ask Me Anything" session last week online, we want your thoughts on whether this could be a potential platform for pharma too?

A few nights ago President Obama made internet history. Logging into reddit, he hosted an ‘AMA’ (Ask Me Anything) for reddit users to actively participate in.

Such was the popularity of this thread that it crashed the site, prompting gifs like this one to appear online; it also prompted much satirical musing regarding Mitt Romney’s reaction to the news, including such gems as ‘I’ve read it; whatever it is, I’ve read it!’. The word on the online street was that Obama was kind of cool, and Romney was kind of...not.

The thing was, as a number of commentators pointed out, this was a gimmick. It was not particularly candid, and the answers were nothing that Obama wouldn’t have delivered to ‘a standard media outlet’. He took questions on his favourite sports team, the internet and money in politics; he missed (or avoided if you’re cynical) questions on Guantanamo Bay and climate change. This was no scoop for redditors.

“This is all very well, but what’s this got to do with pharma?” I hear you asking.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure it’s got anything to do with pharma. But I’d like you to let me muse here for a while, and then I’d like you to tell me what you think.

The facts of this experiment are these: Obama goes on reddit. People are a bit cynical and a bit suspicious, but mainly, they are very excited at the thought of being able to talk directly to POTUS. And even though he didn’t answer any tough questions and people did notice that, commentators generally pronounce this to have been A Good Thing for Obama to have done. It presents him as candid and willing to listen to his electorate. It makes them feel like they have been allowed a say – and the importance of making people feel that should never be underestimated.

So I couldn’t help thinking, what if Andrew Witty had gone onto Reddit and opened an AMA after the GSK payout? Would this also have been A Good Thing?

It would be an opportunity for Witty to reiterate the positive changes he had made to GSK since taking it over, but in a more informal setting, addresses the public’s questions.

Having said that, we would be naive to compare the star-quality of the President of the United States to a pharma CEO, no matter how important. Pharma is not exactly a shining beacon of popularity in the minds of the public, whereas a substantial swathe of the population does actually support Obama. Furthermore, pharma has legal issues to consider that Obama just wouldn’t have to worry about. Obama also has a status as a personality, meaning he got asked questions about beer and sports; Witty doesn’t have that kind of personal public profile because of course, he doesn’t need to. But it would mean that people would be unlikely to ask him those more ‘easy questions’, since he would be identified solely with his role, whereas Obama, like all politicians try to, markets himself as well as a father, husband, friend, and all-round pleasant chap.

So the question I pose to you is this:

Weighing up all of the facts and possibilities, is there scope for pharma to host AMA’s of their own? Addressing the public and their concerns in a more direct manner?

Thoughts and opinions below please....

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