I’ve been watching, encouraging, praising and, on occasion, remonstrating about the way pharma do, half-do or don’t do social media for 5 years now.
During that time I’ve made numerous ‘what is social media / what opportunities do social media offer’ imploring presentations – at workshops, as part of conferences, as internal ‘quiet chats’ to marketing, medical, research groups within pharma companies and as part of a series of interviews that I did benchmarking social media practices in >100 companies first in 2008 then in follow-up in 2010. So if you’re fed up of me evangelizing about this subject – then have some pity for my colleagues and friends because they have really heard enough! And imagine how tired I am of repeating myself.
I’m sorry for being an ear-worm. I also make no apologies for this. What a juxtaposed perspective. But as Aristotle said, ‘we are what we repeatedly do; excellence therefore is a habit not a skill’ … and we are, at last, through the dogged-insistency of several ‘Social Media Pioneers’ (as we somewhat self-aggrandizingly like to label ourselves) seeing pharma not only ‘getting it’ about how social media provides great insights and relationship-building with customers but ‘doing it. And really doing it spectacularly well in many ways.
During all of this, one presentation that stands out as a spectacular failure, however, was when I was invited to the ABPI’s ‘Legal Day’. Ostensibly to give a summary of the growing use of social media in healthcare – an observational report not an opinion – this was to 150 pharmaceutical lawyers afterall who will deal with facts not prediction.
My intent was to convince the pharma execs that the meritocracy of social media could be of specific value to pharma with regard to their own company profile and reputation. At the time, they were being lambasted in the traditional media for their ‘influence, opacity and secretive communications’. I wanted to demonstrate that other sectors had used social media to ‘give themselves a human – approachable face’. And in fact that major healthcare organizations were already confidently using social media in their everyday work of health education, disease awareness, relationships with patients and physicians. Furthermore, patients were at the epicenter of all of this … already proficient consumers of social media to suit their needs.
How naïve I was thinking that I would have a receptive audience that day. Really, the signs were there and I ignored them. Let’s back-up … the key words …150 pharmaceutical lawyers. These guys do an excellent job – but their job is to protect. Really, my presentation was meant for those who innovate. That is ‘Not’ the people in the room. I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people. Now I share my birthday with Bruce Willis (true) – and indeed here I was in the middle of my very own ‘Die Hard’ disaster movie. Plus I was the last slot of the day – after a long and what looked to be an intense programme – which had inevitably overrun … so I was standing between the attendees and their train journey home.
They just didn’t want to hear it. I’m frequently inundated with ‘tell me more’ questions after a presentation (usually because I’ve hurtled like an express train through the content and people didn’t hear properly – must stop that). As presenters and scientists, we often dread the question-bit because we worry they will be on stuff we aren’t fully data-upped on; but nothing was as dreadful as standing in front of this stony-faced wall of silence. After an excrutiating minute or so, polite (if rushed) contests were forwarded about how pharma would never be able to use social media. No thanks. Not for us. Cheerio then.
I left that session feeling utterly dejected – disconsolate. I think that was probably my ‘slough of despond’ … and certainly ‘why bother, I give up’ was running through my head.
Embarrasingly, I’m an avid collector of motivational quotes and could reach into my happy place to come up with the appropriate words-of-wisdom to life me from those murky depths. “Consider not only the truth of what you say, but also if the man you are addressing can endure the truth.” Said Seneca. At that juncture, the pharma people in the room were not able to hear, nevermind endure, the truth that social media was part of the change from push-broadcasting to entitled-consumer communications.
We are therefore at another milestone for the acceptance and even enjoyment of how pharma can use social media to nourish their relationships with stakeholders. We have heard from two bloggers today about what pharma can, are and should do. It actually feels as though we are awash with examples of pharma now using the channel. In contrast to the heads shaking resolutely in front of me a few years ago, all I see are heads nodding and the question is no longer about ‘why’ but ‘how’.
So I’m now talking to the right audience, about the right approaches, at the right time.
We’re no longer stuck ... we are sticky and sticking with social media.
Perhaps I can turn down my volume a little then ... you can always hope!
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