Adverse events. Off-label usage. FDA guidelines governing brand-specific communications. These are the reasons often rattled off by pharmaceutical marketers for steering clear of social media. But I wonder: are these really just convenient excuses?
I recently wrote two posts that explored this topic (Changing the Script for Pharma Social Media and Deflecting Myopia: Is Pharmaceutical Marketing Stuck in Neutral?). The basic idea of both posts was that pharmaceutical marketers are either:
- Inhibiting success by admitting failure before it occurs or;
- Not even trying because, in their minds, it is not worth the effort.
Along the same lines, Sean Woodruff of the Impactiviti Blog wrote a post today on the Pitfalls of Doing Nothing. His point (overly simplified here but I suggest you pop over and read the post in full) was that pharma companies think they are taking the safe route by staying out of social media, but in reality, the consequences of inaction could be significant. With conversations happening at all times about your corporate brand, wouldn’t be advisable to add an informed voice to the mix?
The question still lingers then: is the regulatory environment surrounding the pharmaceutical industry a convenient excuse to shun social media efforts? A Recent study from Nielsen Buzz Metrics has shown that a scant 1 in every 500 online communications meets the criteria for AE reporting. In addition, a survey conducted in April by John Mack of the Pharma Marketing Blog listed corporate culture as the primary obstacle to social media for pharmaceutical companies—not regulatory concerns. The point here is not to dismiss regulatory issues as a non-issue as they should certainly come under close scrutiny before engaging in any form of social media activity. The point is that in most cases, these regulatory issues are not deal breakers—they are deal influencers.
When you boil it all down, pharmaceutical companies are no different than other industries embarking on a social media journey. Like consumer products and tech companies, pharma companies are scared of losing control of their brand more than they are of dealing with the regulatory environment. Putting your corporate image in the hands of the general public is a scary thought that pharmaceutical marketers have not quite come to grips with in many instances. But as Sean points out, that loss of control has already happened. Consumers are already engaging in communities and shaping a company’s image. Marketers should be under no illusion that they alone control the brand.
Pharma companies need to decide if they want to be a part of that community or forfeit all brand rights to the community at large. If you ask me it’s an easy choice.