No social media please, we're pharma

Ambiguity is a virus. When it comes to social media, the more the FDA says about what is and what is not "in compliance" vis-à-vis social media, the less we seem to understand - and more conservative we become. This is not the right answer.

Ambiguity is a virus. When it comes to social media, the more the FDA says about what is and what is not “in compliance” vis-à-vis social media, the less we seem to understand – and more conservative we become. This is not the right answer.

The right answer is to understand the medium and use it to advance both the public health and specific marketing objectives. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Let's take blogs as our example.

Blogging is a potent weapon the both war of ideas and the marketplace of communications objectives. Blogs are wonderful tools when used appropriately. They are pithy, witty, and timely. A wonderful triple play – but counter-intuitive to many pharmaceutical marketing cultures. Brevity is the soul of wit – but not necessarily of medical marketing.

The tools of the blogosphere are immediacy, emotion, humor, asperity and acerbity. “Let me ponder the nuances of your argument” is just so 20th century. The best bloggers are both incisive and sassy. Blogs act as message accelerators. While a good Op-Ed is absorbed, a timely blog is injected, main-streamed into the collective consciousness of a variety of interconnected audiences. Good blogs resonate.

How can healthcare companies take advantage of this phenomenon? One word – engage. But engage carefully. Legal and regulatory issues abound, but a smart place to start is to spend quality time identifying which blogistas are the most relevant to a product or an issue or a company and then read them every day throughout the day. The best blogs are updated more than once a day. It's hard work, but it's worth it. And, relative to metrics, it isn't the top 10 – it's the right 10.

Blogs are the new frontier of pharmaceutical communications. The best bloggers are activist, educated, unpaid, unprompted and uncontrolled. Blogs are real-time focus groups without either the design or permission of the sponsor. Its voyeuristic marketing – wonderfully, terribly, brutally naked in both honesty and utility. The medium is the message.

And the message is being regularly trawled by the mainstream media for “what's next.” I blog every day and regularly get calls from “traditional” journalists to discuss what I'm saying and where I think its going. And if your cognitive mapping is having a hard time accepting this proposition – ask Maureen Dowd.

Peter J. Pitts is partner and director of global health at Porter Novelli and a former FDA Associate Commissioner.

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