The always thought-provoking John Mack of Pharma Marketing Blog fame wrote a post today about the idea of “shouting” as a legitimate social media technique. Head over to John’s blog for the full context but to sum it up here, John was referring to the practice of broadcasting a slew of messages via social media channels. The hope would be to bombard the networks with so much positive company information that it buries any negative information that may appear. “Shouting” amounts to gaming the almighty Google and moving positive commentary up in the rankings.
John contends that left to their own devices, pharma marketers may be tempted to fill the social media void with self-promotional messages with the goal of driving down negative search engine results. He may be right. It’s no secret that SEO techniques have changed the face of marketing and any savvy marketer should consider how it can highlight positive results and mitigate the negative. This is a core function of marketing in today’s new media landscape. But is “shouting” an acceptable means to this end?
The short answer is no. The goal of pushing negative search results down is certainly a worthy goal, particularly if that negative result contains misinformation. But simply broadcasting company infomercial is not the best way to achieve that result. In fact, by simply following a social media strategy that abides by the principles of honesty and transparency, a marketer can achieve the same result without resorting to questionable tactics. Borrowing from the comment I left on John’s blog, take for example a case where a ticked off patient writes a post called, “Big Pharma Company A Sucks.” The post is likely to appear prominently in search results. But instead of “shouting” (i.e. broadcasting a rebuttal), what if a pharma company was present in the discussion happening on that post in an attempt to address some of the patient’s concerns? What if that participation spurred a follow-up post praising the company for its proactive outreach, which would help to balance out the negative view? That has to count for something right? The point is: pharma marketers should be encouraged to partake in and spur conversation. This will inevitably help their brand and also achieve the same outcome as the “shouting” mentioned above.
Even if we are in agreement that social media can serve the purpose of increasing positive search results in an ethical manner, the obvious lingering concern is if pharmaceutical marketers can stick to the straight and narrow. What few people realize when they embark on social media engagement strategies is that it not only takes an abundance of planning, but dogged commitment and significant time resources. It’s not easy. “Shouting” is a far easier and quicker solution—but at what price?
In order to avoid the temptation of the easy route, pharma marketers need to be engaged in social media for the right reasons. Before hitting send on the keyboard, ask yourself: “why am I here?” If your first answer is “to post corporate information because there was a negative post about our company” then step away from the keyboard. Go no further. That line of thinking fails miserably in the world of social media—particularly pharmaceutical social media. But if you are focused on the Return on Health of your patients and generally engaged in that goal, proceed at will. Your engagement will be welcome, thoughtful and informative.