The portion of conversation dedicated to social media among pharmaceutical marketers has recently reached a fever pitch. The constant analysis, banter and coverage has resulted in a disproportionate amount of attention being paid to social media—despite the fact that it represents only one small piece of the marketing mix.
Why is that? It’s due in part to the fact that social media represents the new shiny object on the block. It’s something different that is a far cry from the marketing techniques that are beginning to fail pharmaceutical companies. With this understanding, pharmaceutical companies are showing a greater sense of urgency to engage in social media. Of course, wherever pharma goes, the FDA is sure to follow and social media is no different. The recent public hearing on pharma has raised the profile of social media for pharmaceutical companies. Add all of these industry dynamics with the fact that social media advocates tend to be vocal and passionate evangelists (I’m exhibit A) and it’s not difficult to understand why social media is dominating the conversation.
And while I am all for raising the profile of social media among pharmaceutical marketers; we need to be sure it is done in an appropriate manner. The problem that is beginning to develop is some people selling social media services are selling pharma companies on a bag of goods they can’t deliver. Namely, these companies are making empty promises that social media can reverse a poor brand image, evangelize brand advocates over night and drive people to buy a product in droves. While these are all worthy goals, the fact is that social media cannot accomplish these goals operating in a vacuum. It has to be part of an integrated marketing communications plan.
The mistaken belief that social media should be isolated from other marketing functions is damaging. Many agencies selling social media services are driving this belief. If you are selling such lofty promises, what happens when an engagement goes awry? What happens when the community unites in backlash against a company? If you have sold a pharmaceutical company on grand promises, you are likely going to be looking at the business side of a door on your way to the curb. This type of relationship only damages the industry’s chances of successful, authentic social media engagement and is fueled by people chasing the quick buck rather than creating sustained value.
Instead, as agencies, we should be selling pharmaceutical companies on the real value provided by social media—a chance at authentic, transparent and meaningful engagements with key stakeholders. This is a marketing vehicle that has never before been available on this scale. However, there is no guarantee that those engagements will be one hundred positive. Any agency that promises you otherwise is blowing smoke up your ass in an attempt to win your business. If your product is bad, social media will expose it. If your brand is damaged, the community will further poke holes. If your outreach strategy is broken, social media will tell you why.
Scared yet? You shouldn’t be. One positive about social media is that it is a sandbox of sorts. It has the ability to weed out, expose and provide feedback on areas you may never have considered. It’s a real-time feedback loop. The trick is how you react to that feedback. A pharmaceutical company that has been set up on empty promises has been set up to fail. It has not been prepared for the possibility that a social media engagement will not consist purely of positive feedback. The negative interactions can be just as valuable, if not more so, if a pharmaceutical company has been counseled on how to respond.
Pharmaceutical marketers: social media is your sandbox—are you ready for that?