There is a common belief that even if the pharma industry decided to implement social media programs in droves that patients would automatically rebuff their efforts. There is considerable logic to this line of thinking.
For starters, individuals generally don’t join a social network to engage with brands. They participate in social networks to connect with friends, meet new people or expand their knowledge base. You would have to search high and low to find a person that joined a social network with the intent of interacting with a brand. Because of this dynamic, people are predisposed to place more scrutiny on a corporate entity participating in a social media community than an individual. This holds true for any company, but when you consider a pharmaceutical company the effect becomes magnified.
Pharmaceutical companies are in a highly regulated industry where every move they make is placed under the microscope. More so than other industries, customers (in this case patients) pick apart every message and every nuance that comes from a pharmaceutical company. There is little room for slip ups, which makes social media an uncomfortable place for many pharma companies. Finally, the pharma industry has been steadily losing the trust of the general public. People have grown wary of the bombardment of ads and the seemingly veiled communications efforts. When a pharma company decides to become an active participant in social media you can bet a horde of people are watching their every move just hoping for a misstep.
This is the lens that shapes the opinion that pharma is not welcome in social media circles. But the more I talk with people in the industry and with patients, the more it becomes apparent that simply is not the case. Sure, patients are wary of the participation of healthcare companies for all of the aforementioned reasons. But even more so, they are wary because it is their health that we are talking about. This isn’t a decision on which laptop to buy or which new cell phone has the best apps. This is a decision that literally impacts the way you live your life. Patients have every right to be wary of pharmaceutical companies.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t want them to be a part of their communities. Generally speaking, what someone suffering from an illness wants is information. It provides comfort, peace of mind and some semblance of control. Personally, I can tell you that when my Mom was diagnosed with Melanoma I voraciously read everything I could find about living with the disease, the survival rate and courses of treatment. I would have welcomed input from a pharmaceutical company that was pioneering treatment to boil that information down to make it more digestible.
Patients want information. Pharma holds the information. Pharma has a unique ability, in fact a responsibility, to educate patients as much as possible. Why should a little extra scrutiny stand in the way? As a company, if you are there for the right reasons and keep the patient at the center of your decision-making process, you will welcome the added attention.
UPDATE: The good folks over the Path of the Blue Eye Project alerted me to some interesting statistics that highlight the importance of information to e-patients. Keep an eye out for the full report next week.