Brand“This House Believes That Patient Care Will Be Enhanced By Pharma Being Involved in Social Media”

The PIPA conference will be debating this topic on 5th July. With speakers such as Sam Temple-Scotton, 2health; Andrew Spong, STweM; Daniel Ghinn, Creation Healthcare and Klynn Alibocus, Blue Latitude, it’ll be interesting to see how the vote goes and what example they produce. Can’t wait!

For the last year, a similar debate has been raging in my head! Half of me thinks this is just what we need to engage with healthcare professionals and consumers in an ethical, responsible and helpful way. Yet the other half of me says they are beautiful toys and great fun but can pharma use them in a meaningful way? Is it like the children’s fairytale of the Emperor’s New Clothes? (SPOILER – he was naked really!)

The customer engagement triangle helps to explain where we come in.


How does this all work? Take a topical example; booking a holiday.

Step 1. Customers go to to their trusted information sources.

You might start off by searching for a holiday to your prefered destination on Google. I love Mauritius so tried “mauritius holiday packages”. Disheartened to see that the sponsered link was Saga holidays (thanks for nothing for reminding me of my age, Google). I browsed the Virgin holiday site to find a hotel I fancied.
Veranda Paul & Virginie looks ideal and the price isn’t too bad.

Step 2. Brand Information and Services

Looking at the hotel’s details on the Virgin website example , the information provided is briefer than LDL’s customer service manual. Buying a day trip though has lots of information – of course, they want to you to buy more add-ons.

But I really want to know more about the hotel.

  • What did other people staying there think of it?
  • Is it ideal for families, honeymooners or business folks? Yes, some people go to this gorgeous place on business – I’m working on it ;-).

The hotel’s website has some more information but I know it only shows the best photos and everything is staged, food, models, the best weather etc.

So you want peer opinion. You can ask your friends but very few have been there. But I know that the best hotel and holiday advice comes from Trip Advisor website.

Step 3. Peer Opinion.

The impact of user generated web content is becoming more powerful than a neutron bomb, Hadron Collider and bird flu virus combined. Word of Mouth recommendations can be the ideal advertising for brands, services and advice (it’s the mainstay of my marketing).

Trip Advisor
gives it a 82% rating from 189 reviews. Poppy2K reckons it’s “Love at first sight. A 3 star hotel doesn’t get much better than this.” Norccy thinks it’s an “amazing hotel maore than 3 star”

The Trip Advisor dashboard shows me, at a glance, the spread of ratings and what type of holidays people were taking; family vs couples vs solo travel.

Trip Advisor

So if we could satisfy the regulators, our legal departments, pharmacovigilance, the Medical Director and a host of 20 stakeholder departments, what would we be doing in social media?

So where does Medical Information or Medical Affairs come in?

Here’s a quote cited by Rebecca Vermeulen, Eli Lilly who chaired the Social Media session at the DIA US Med Comms workshop in March 2010.

if engaging with others to share knowledge, experience and build relationships lies at the heart of social media , doesn’t that sound like your role and the value you bring to your organisation and benefits patients?

It sounded familiar as it’s taken from a 24 page report I wrote on Social Media in Medical Information and Medical Affairs for a teleseminar (to be updated and repeated in September 2010). Thanks for the credit, Rebecca!

So what can we do now? What should we planning to do for the immediate future? What do we need to keep an eye on?

The Bottom Line.

1. Get educated.

If you don’t really understand social media, it’s not too late. You didn’t have to understand how a fax worked 10 years ago to realise how it could be a useful tool. Before the wide adoption of email, it was an essential tool to quickly send urgent, life-saving information to doctors (and still about 20% prefer it to email!).
This beautiful infographic from Mashable is another view you may prefer!

Of course, I’d recommend you buy a copy of my report as it’s aimed at you!

2. Get at the table.

Who in your organisation is more excited about social media than a adolescent boy with unmonitored online access? Marketing. They want to own customer engagement but we know that we have a part to play in customer dialogue. A million customer contacts in the UK come from Medical Information departments each year. (Source. PIPA Benchmarking survey 2009). In the UK, there’s a Pharmaceutical Marketing working party developing guidance, chaired by Steve Grey (ex-Med Info Manager at AZ but with years of experience in sales and marketing, more lately compliance). PR also have a stake here. Alex Butler from Janssen UK (Twitter name @janssenuk) wrote a great article on social media in Pharmaceutical Marketing last month – it made the cover of the magazine but you can also read it here

What is your company doing right now? There are probably lots of US initiatives, as direct-to-consumer advertising is allowed. But the great Dose of Digital wiki contains over 600 healthcare social media initiatives. Jonathan Richman who writes a great blog which you can receive as a newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@jonmrich).

What plans are there for using social media in the future? Shouldn’t you be included here? Medical departments already use social media to recruit patients to trials, for example. You can view social media as yet another communication channel.

bq(pullquote) If we had ignored email adoption in the 90s, we would still be writing letters at great cost and delivering lousy service.

Shouldn’t you be at least looking at what you need to do to build in social media when you overhaul your operations, database or product launch plans.

3. Follow the conversation. #hcsmeu

The best way I keep up with social media in healthcare is following the online discussion every Friday at 12.00 UK time. The great thing is that I can follow it anywhere, anytime, any place at it happens on Twitter (aka a tweet-up!). I can see it on my laptop, follow it on my iPhone using the Twitter app or catch up later as the co-host Andrew Sprong (@AndrewSprong on Twitter) archives the conversation You need a google account or email to access Google Docs though.
You can follow it by using the hashtag #hcsmeu (aka Healthcare Social Media Europe) in the Twitter search box. Blocked from Twitter? Find it on Google.

4. Start small

If you’re more comfortable taking baby steps, start small. The 2 social media sites you should be using TODAY are


In today’s uncertain job market, you need to build your online presence. LinkedIn is the essential networking tool for business people. 65 million people can’t be wrong! After all, we all know it’s who you know as much as *what* you know LinkedIn. Check it out



This is a social bookmarking site. Once you create an account, you can save bookmarks to the “Cloud”. Never lose a bookmark again when your laptop crashes/is swapped/is stolen by zombie vampires. I share my bookmarks so you can find useful sites, tips and tools for Med Info or Pharmacovigilance folks. Use the tags to find what you want. And you can combine tags to narrow down your search. You can hide bookmarks if you want (mark as private). Delicious. Medical Information bookmarks