You may have heard; the FDA is holding a public hearing on social media and how it impacts pharmaceutical companies. There have been a number of excellent presentations so far that have moved this conversation forward and closer to a solution.
But one thing has been noticeably absent: the patient.
The entire conversation around social media in pharma has centered on how it can help the marketer. It’s been positioned as yet another tool in a marketer’s bag of tricks. The overwhelming concern before engaging in social media tends to be around how to drive product and brand awareness; and ultimately, revenue. I don’t absolve myself from this dynamic. I certainly have spent my fair share of time discussing how social media can help improve the marketing of a pharmaceutical company and enhance brand loyalty. Hey, we are marketers; our job is to generate leads.
But there has been something missing from the conversation to date that should be the central part of every social media effort in the pharmaceutical industry. Before embarking on a social media journey, every marketer, and every executive should ask one simple question. I know what you are thinking: every executive wants to know the ROI of social media. That’s not it. Some people have started discussing more progressive measures like Return on Reputation (ROR). While that gets closer to the right question it doesn’t get to the heart of why to engage in social media. The question every marketer should ask is: what’s the Return on Health (ROH). If the answer to the question is zero then stop immediately and walk away. Go no further because your involvement in social media will fail and damage the community in the process. Ultimately, the patient has to be at the center of every social media program. If you can’t identify any Return on Health you shouldn’t move forward.
This doesn’t mean you throw out other measures like ROI. I’m a capitalist and like to make money as much as the next guy. But when we are talking about marketing pharmaceutical products, there has to be a higher purpose. Starting from “How do we make money?” and working to how it will impact the patient is a quick route to failure. I promise, if you flip that model and start with the patient—the money will come.
Does this mean that social media efforts can’t focus on building the corporate brand? Of course not. If the patient is at the center of these efforts then those efforts are more likely to achieve success, which has been clearly defined. Take a hypothetical, but common example of a biotech company that is in the midst of an early-stage clinical trial. It’s no secret that it takes enormous amounts of cash to get a drug from discovery to general availability. It’s reasonable to assume then that a biotech’s goal at this stage is to raise money. Without a heaping pile of liquid assets a biotech is doomed. That’s the harsh reality no matter how good the drug in question might be. But raising money doesn’t seem to line up nicely with the needs of the patient in this case.
Suppose that biotech has developed a small molecule drug that shows promise in treating late-stage cancers. With the patient at the center, this company might seek to engage in social media efforts geared toward educating patients and caregivers on living with late-stage cancer. It might also seek to energize communities on fund raising for cancer research while clearly outlining the staggering impact cancer has on the world. This same company might even share some of its research in scientific communities to advance other research efforts in similar areas. Imagine that. All of these efforts would have a high Return on Health in the long-term if the drug proves to be effective. In the short term, it would help the company by creating mindshare and goodwill with future patients. A biotech that has established that type of awareness before it ever brings a drug to market is a company that will undoubtedly raise more money in financing rounds and have a much more attractive liquidation event. First the patient, then the money. The point? You can make money and generate a Return on Health (ROH), if and only if, the patient is at the center.
It’s simple really: if the patient is the focus of your social media engagement then your interactions will reflect that. Conversely, if profit motivation is your driving force then you are likely to be tempted into making poor decisions such as paying people to post Wikiepedia entries or covertly pushing products on a health chat page. Using Return on Health as the primary measure of a social media program establishes a decision-making framework that won’t lead you astray.
The goal of social media should always be to add more value than you extract. Does measuring ROI tell you if you have accomplished that goal? If you are truly focused on the patient then you will engage transparently, communicate honestly and seek to educate and not exploit.
What’s the Return on Health (ROH) of your social media efforts?