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31st Jul 2009 | Posted by James J. Wells James J. Wells's picture

Speaking at last week’s Social Communications & Healthcare Conference (#BDI), Pfizer VP/Worldwide Comunications Ray Kerins said that Pfizer wants to have online conversations with its consumers. However, he thinks it is unfair to ask company employees to risk their job implementing a social media program that the FDA might later deem a violation, despite its refusal to issue guidance in this area. Nevertheless, the company just two weeks ago launched its corporate Twitter page (@Pfizer_News) and is starting to proactively communicate with its audience in real-time.

Some pharmaceutical companies are further along at adopting social media technologies. In fact, the most enlightening presentation of the day came from Tricia Geoghegan, Communications Lead for ADHD at McNeil Pediatrics. Tricia launched the brand’s Facebook presence … first with ADHD Moms (8,769 fans) and then ADHD Allies (13,526 fans).

What separates the ADHD pages from other pharma-branded Facebook pages is they allow two-way communication. Using the Boxes tab, fans can post to the “Moments” or “Perspective” section. The posting policy stipulates that all comments must be approved by a page moderator and those that do not directly relate to an approved community topic will not be posted. In addition, both fan pages will not allow any comments about specific products or treatments.

This policy raises some questions about the costs associated with two-way communication. Specifically how do you make the business case for page moderators and how do you measure the ROI of a Facebook community. Tricia argued that good metrics make the case for running such a community. However, since social media is about sharing, not selling, social media ROI is different from traditional media metrics. Instead of measuring in dollars, consider customer engagement stats. Jonathan Richman has collected pharma’s social media initiatives on his Healthcare Social Media Wiki, but I would love to see more examples of how other pharma brands are measuring the ROI of social media campaigns.

One of the biggest learnings from the ADHD case study is the importance of having corporate social media guidelines. In fact, parent company J&J developed these policies as the ADHD Facebook communities were being developed. Responding to an audience member’s question about guidelines, Tricia said it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to do this without corporate social media guidelines and an enlightened lawyer.

Tricia’s experience also serves as the perfect illustration of how to overcome the challenges posed by the FDA. Instead of focusing on things that it cannot control (FDA regulations), J&J spent time on something it could control … building support internally and formulating social media policies that make it clear to each product team what they can and cannot do with social media.     

This is why J&J’s digital footprint is unrivaled in the industry. The list of examples is impressive and, better still, most of the above brand properties link to one another, improving site traffic and the brand’s overall search performance. Here is a list of accomplishments:

Such success also stems in part from adjusting to the changing roles of PR, marketing and interactive. These disciplines often work independently, but social media challenges that practice. One solution is to implement a multidisciplinary social media taskforce within the organization that spells out the roles and responsibilities of all parties.    

BDI Link round up: 

Pharma Marketing Blog: Pfizer’s Social Media Strategy: Piss Off John Mack, Get Hundreds of New Followers!

Health Blawg: The Lawyers Don’t Always Say No: Bringing Legal Into Health Care Social Media Strategic Planning 

Dose of Digital: Greetings From the Business Development Institute Conference

Stwem: 10 best practices in social media

DS Simon: Bill Sobel’s Tips and Tactics for Social Media in Healthcare

Impactiviti: Pharma and Social Media: Progress!

The Management Cartoonist: Corporate Twitter 





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