*How pharma companies can get social media right*
How pharma companies can get social media right
In my last post, I outlined Ten reasons your pharma firm isnt participating in social media, but basically the roundup included the typical barriers you have likely witnessed yourself.
Social media is new, complicated, and the rules are constantly changing.
Some might argue that social media is not even marketing, not to mention that the US FDA has declined to provide guidance on the topic.
Therefore, understandably, participating in social media can be a fairly scary prospect to marketers, communicators, regulatory experts, and senior management.
Social media can be a high-maintenance burden that requires headcount, content, governance, documentation, and funding.
The prospect of participating in social media creates dissonance within traditional pharma organizations because ownership, measurement, and investment are unclear.
I am a firm believer that companies must understand that social media is neither simple nor straightforward, and firms should think carefully before engaging.
That said, despite the barriers, many companies are successfully overcoming obstacles, blazing new trails, embarking on social media initiatives and seeing success.
I dont like setting up problems without solutions, so this time I would like to offer nine ways your company can work to overcome the barriers.
Articulate the business case
Social media pioneers should be careful not to succumb to shiny object syndrome; they will risk losing credibility and projects wont get approved.
Just as with anything else, social media efforts should always tie to business objectives.
This, of course, should be from where the idea was derived in the first place.
Overall objectives led to the strategies, and along the way the insights pointed to a need for a social media initiative, not the other way around.
And marketers shouldnt forget to include a plan to measure against the objectives.
If it can tie to ROI, even better.
Remember, and understand, the audience
Marketers must understand not only the demographics and attitudes of the audience, but also the dynamics of how they use the online space and social media specifically.
This can be done through research, monitoring, and your own observation.
Pharma companies should talk to patients and physicians.
Ask them what they need. Get to know them on a personal level. And make sure that, whatever is done, the audience is at the center of the companys social media universe.
The pharma company, by the way, is not at the center of theirs, and thats okay.
Education is key
Social media advocates should educate everyoneeveryonearound them about what social media is, is not, and could beeven the ones they may think understand it, because there is always more to learn.
Companies can lean on their agencies for this.
Typically, they have more time, resources, and incentive to stay on top of the moving target that is social media.
Some agencies may even be willing to set up educational sessions pro bono because they believe that much in the value of education.
It does not hurt to ask.
Its important to find an internal godfather to champion the social media cause internally.
The godfather (or godmother) is the executive-level internal advocate who can help navigate the politics, overcome the barriers, and be an all-around champion for the social media cause.
When it comes to gathering champions, it helps if they are in vast numbers, highly respected, and high up in the ranks.
If marketers can only get one or two of these, they should still take what they can get.
Dont force it
Sadly, some marketers and agencies still fall victim to setting up a Facebook/YouTube/Twitter/FaceTube/Twitbook/FlickTube platform for the sake of being able to say they are doing social media.
But by the time the content is watered down, comments are disallowed, and any other hope of a two-way conversation is shut down by legal and regulatory, theyre left with nothing more than an expensive digital billboard.
Educate the stakeholders early, and save yourself some aggravation by getting their buy-in at the concept stage.
If that doesnt work, it may be time to consider an entirely different approach one that perhaps doesnt involve social media at all.
Have some faith
There have been complaints among some pharma bloggers that the same people are at the same industry conferences talking about the same things when it comes to pharma social media.
But, having been involved myself in both social media and the conference circuit for several years, I beg to differ.
Progress is slow, but the industry has come a long way from the days when regulatory groups forbade marketers from monitoring and companies refused internal access to social media destinations.
If yours is a company that appreciates precedent, reference the Healthcare Social Media Wiki for a slew of examples of pharma currently participating in social media.
This can be the hardest part.
For years, it was the social and mobile experimental projects that were getting cut from budgets first.
Hopefully, the industry is moving beyond that.
Marketers can think about it this way: If a proposed initiative will take time and headcount, perhaps there are other initiatives the brand is doingones that just arent working anymorethat could be sacrificed for a social media pilot.
Be prepared for the unexpected
That can be a difficult thing to say to a highly regulated, complicated, risk-averse pharma company.
But social mediathe rules, the platforms, the technology, the environmentare truly ever evolving.
Just as soon as we have it figured out, the rules change.
We learn what not to do from a new case study. Facebook changes its technology. Twitter introduces ads. DDMAC issues guidance ... You just never know.
We are not in control of these things.
Its best to understand that up front and set expectations than to have things be a complete surprise later.
Take it slow
Patience, they say, is a virtue.
Take the time to plan it right, get the pieces in place, and set it up internally for success.
The results will be worth the wait.
Should your company engage in social media? Maybe.
But only if you can do it the right way, and only if you enter the challenge with a strategic mindset.
Now go blaze new trails!
Wendy Blackburn is executive vice president of digital pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions.
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