In my last post, I attempted to make the case that pharma social media is nothing new—just a form of relationship marketing using a different channel. In essence, sales reps have been making a living for decades based mostly on their ability to cultivate relationships. Those relationships are developed based on an exchange of value—the docs get access to information (and sometimes incentives) and the reps get a hefty commission. Without some sort of exchange of value, no relationship can function. In that sense, sales reps and social media programs are not all that different. Right?
Sort of. While the basic tenants of building a relationship are the same, one key difference does exist—the definition of value. In the more traditional form of relationship building, value can be defined a number of different ways. Value can be access to information. Value can be key clinical trial data. Value can be providing access to a drug that widens a doctor’s treatment options. Those are all good things. But the problem is: value in this world can also be defined by expensive lunches, putting doctors on payroll and fancy country clubs. This type of value should not dictate the subscribing patterns of doctors. And while there are a lot of great sales reps out there that provide a very admirable and needed service, there are also those that fight tooth and nail for every sale by resorting to whatever it takes. This type of relationship building is still predicated on an exchange of value.
Social media is vastly different in this regard. Value is not defined by pharma companies and doctors, value is defined by the patients—the community. In social media, the idea of value is redefined from past relationship marketing efforts. Because patients are intimately concerned with their health, they have the right to define value in their own communities. This is why pharma companies need to focus on Return on Health (ROH) as a key guiding principle of social media. It allows them to focus their efforts where it counts—on the patient. Of course, just like any relationship, there is always the possibility that it can be exploited. The same types of motivations that drive sales reps could certainly drive marketers to cross ethical boundaries in social media. But the difference is—the social media community won’t allow it to happen. It can’t happen for an extended period of time in social media circles because pharmaceutical companies do not dictate value. While sales reps function in the friendly confines of a doctor’s office, social media takes place in front of a giant spotlight. The patient has decided what value they are seeking and if pharma companies fail to oblige they will be ostracized.
That leaves pharmaceutical companies and the agencies advising them with a choice: get in by understanding the value the patient has dictated or get out.