In the next few sentences I’m going to (attempt) compare pharmaceutical social media and Rage Against the Machine. Bear with me on this; I swear I’m going somewhere. Rage Against the Machine was a band that rose to success largely on its ability to passionately vocalize tenuous political issues. The band prided itself on voicing the things that nobody wanted to say and putting songs out there that didn’t conform to the “best practices” outlined by record labels. Just like any industry, there is a clear recipe for success in the music industry and Rage Against the Machine wasn’t it.
See where I am going with this? In their infancy, pharma social media marketers needed a bit of a “Rage Against the Machine” mentality. Marketing best practices said nothing about direct engagement with the patient, letting go of brand control and moving away from mass audiences to more targeted engagement. The very premise of social media marketing ran counter to many established marketing norms—it bucked “the establishment.”
Here’s the catch though: You know what happened to Rage Against the Machine? They broke up despite their overwhelming success. The band broke up because the decision-making process had fallen apart and they felt like they were straying too far from their original intention (this is where the comparison falls apart a bit, but you get the point!).
How does social media marketing as a discipline avoid the same fate as Rage Against the Machine? Stop working against the machine. Social media marketers have always proudly displayed a cavalier attitude—believing they were changing the way companies marketed and interacted. But cavalier attitudes are not always the best way to enact change.
At a pharmaceutical company, there is a very methodical process that needs to occur long before social media engagement is ever reached. Want to engage with patients on forums? Better check the FDA guidelines on that one and write a new company policy for engagement? Think you might see a few adverse events? You need to write a new policy on how to handle adverse events reported through social media channels. Have aspirations of responding to comments on Facebook and through Twitter? You better devise a response plan for each medium and consider who has the approval power to maintain a consistent flow of communication.
Authentic engagement is always a laudable goal in social media. But you can’t focus on just engagement when working with pharmaceutical companies. You should be adept at writing social media policy, running training sessions, understanding AE reporting protocols and running robust listening programs. These are the building blocks of social media success and they fall right in line with what pharma companies have always done. Will you swim with or against the current?