Much of the pharmaceutical social media conversation has focused on the need for change from the market tactics of yesteryear. The argument goes something like this: “agree or disagree, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most distrusted and its public perception is overwhelmingly negative. Why? Fair or unfair, many point the finger at the barrage of DTC ads as a sore point.” Using that logic, the strategy tends to be something to the effect of “change everything.”
It’s not all wrong. I for one have been a proponent of pharmaceutical social media as a step in the evolution of the industry’s marketing. No doubt, the pharmaceutical marketing has been evolving over the years to fit better with a business less focused on blockbuster drugs and mass markets and more concerned with areas of high unmet needs and building relationships. So by all means, move forward with radical changes to the way you form marketing strategy, but don’t disregard your past entirely—you might miss a crucial lesson.
Today, Wendy Blackburn from InTouch Solutions reposted an article that she authored (originally ran in Med Ad News) focused on how pharmaceutical companies can take a more customer-centric approach to marketing (similar to my Return on Health concept). Within that post, Wendy briefly mentions an interesting point: “patient support call centers have been around a long time. What’s so difficult about duplicating that experience online? Why not empower a corporate spokesperson to speak online on behalf of your company and your brand?”
This is an example I’ve used on occasion before: if pharmaceutical companies can trust call center employees to handle patient support functions, why can’t they replicate that process for an online team? There are really only two (honest) answers to this question. The first is that online platforms expose the companies to added risk and exposure to the FDA. The issues are the same as what might be handled in a call center but when dealt with in a public manner, the feeling is that companies are being watched. Call centers don’t face that challenge. Second is a problem of scale. Call centers provide a finite and defined environment. The company can control (to some extent) the calls it takes in a day, the hours it receives calls and the process for responding. The real-time nature of the Web makes this level of control impossible. That’s really about it: too much scrutiny and not enough resources.
Yet, people tend to ignore examples of the past even if they have worked. Call centers have worked in the pharmaceutical industry for the most part. So here is what it comes down to: do you trust your call center employees more than your communications manager?