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Pharma and Social Media; Can They Coexist

For nearly five years (2003-2008) I was the Public Relations counsel for a provider of predictive analytics and reporting software solutions that counted many of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies as its customers. My client’s software enabled life science and pharmaceutical researchers and analysts in drug discovery, development and clinical trials to more efficiently and accurately¬†mine their data and utilize predictive analytics for their analysis. The work these researchers and analysts are doing is exciting and newsworthy.

However, there were many obstacles we ran into in getting the news out about the progress and innovation these researchers were achieving. The biggest hurdle was not with the individual researchers and analysts, but instead with the pharmaceutical companies’ corporate public relations and legal departments. So this week I was intrigued¬†to see on Twitter that the April issue of Pharma Marketing News was “all about pharma & social media.”

Creation of Adam
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sebastian Bergmann

John Mack sets the stage for the issue by writing in the article “Social Media Opportunity or Nightmare” :

“Michelangelo’s nightmarish painting Last Judgement includes the image of a poor soul being dragged down to Hell by the devil’s agents. That image often comes to mind when I hear proponents of social media trying to persuade pharma marketers to just “dip their toe” in the social media waters. The other image I see is a shark lurking just below the water’s surface!”

Mack went on to argue:

“Many pharma marketers within drug companies and within agencies that work for drug companies are trying to move the needle forward to develop guidelines that the industry can follow. So far, however, they have left patients, physicians and other stakeholders out of the discussion. They have forgotten that patient empowerment built the very social networks that they wish to engage in. Personally, I believe pharmaceutical companies need to become truly patient-centric companies BEFORE they can even consider engaging in social media.”

Mack’s article reminded me of Jeremy Owyang’s blog “Troubled, Some Pharmaceuticals Turn a Blind Eye to the Blogosphere” from June 14, 2008 . In Owyang’s blog he reports:

“While this may not hold true for every pharmaceutical company, I recently met one who had banned it’s employees from monitoring blogs, social media and the online conversation.
[Why did this pharma company ban their employees to monitor blogs? If a patient complained about a treatment or medicine having ill-effects, then the pharma would would be liable to take action]. Responding to every customer can be very, very costly, considering how many people may be talking about medicines, often anonymously in online forums.”

It’s exciting to see that the pharmaceutical industry is now realizing it needs to be discussing and establishing guidelines for social media. Will pharma and social media be able to coexist? What do you think?