Call it a scare tactic if you will. A common refrain heard around pharmaceutical social media circles is that conversations are happening online about your brand or company whether you like it or not—you may as well join the chatter. The logic goes like this: if you are marketing a new treatment for cancer, it is likely that patients, caregivers and healthcare providers are showing their interest in both the disease and brand online. Shouldn’t you want to be a part of that conversation?
This is a commonly used method for describing the value proposition of social media. By focusing on the lost opportunity of intercepting and shaping conversations, social media professionals hope to convince skeptical marketers that it’s time to engage.
By ignoring conversations happening online, a brand is absolutely missing out on an opportunity to connect with patients, offer engaging content and pinpoint an information gap. Of course, there are two sides to the same coin and focusing on the lost opportunity is not always the best way to convert skeptics into believers. It is worthwhile to think beyond the lost opportunity and consider the fact that you may lose your brand entirely. That’s a whole lot more than an opportunity squandered (talk about scare tactic).
Here is the choice facing marketers: shape or be shaped by the conversation. Social media enthusiasts would interject here with the tired cliché, “you can longer control your brand, the people control your brand!” For the most part, I agree, but if there’s zero semblance of control, why are we spinning our wheels talking about strategy setting, issues management and authentic engagement? A social media strategy is not close your eyes, plug your ears and see what happens.
By engaging, you are shaping the conversation and shaping the brand. The very ACT of engagement is a brand attribute. Social media engagement is not about control in terms of precise messages, but you are able to gain some control over your public image. For a pharmaceutical company, social media allows the brand to commit to hearing feedback, to show its dedication to health, to demonstrate its ability to respond to patient issues and to show a human-side of a company in an industry that deals with deeply personal issues. Sounds like worthwhile brand attributes huh?
If you choose to ignore reality, you will not only lose a patient, your brand image will be tarnished and perhaps irreparably damaged. What will you do, shape or be shaped?