Pharma comms should forget its social media FOMO and realise that they're the gold standard

Appropriately for an event held over Valentine's Day, PRWeek's inaugural PharmaComms event reflected its audience's ongoing love affair with social media.

You're not missing out in your use of social media in pharma comms, argues Duncan Arbour
You're not missing out in your use of social media in pharma comms, argues Duncan Arbour

In fact, for the past 10 years, since Gordon Brown was in Downing Street and George W Bush in the White House, if you looked at the agendas for events like this, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the eternal question keeping us up at night is still: "How can we do social with the freedom of our unregulated peers?"

Pharma marketing seems to have its own sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) that's even seen a trope emerge at other 'pharma digital' conferences of rolling out keynote speakers from other sectors – presented to us as if they're inspirational relationship coaches for a lovelorn pharma sector desperately trying to match with its audiences. 

But right now there's never been a better time to re-evaluate who you look to for this coaching. 

Because let's face it, it's not Bush in the White House any more is it? 

And the romantic ideal of social media as a sunny utopia seems increasingly out of step in a post-Cambridge Analytica world. 

Look at the bigger picture of consumer marketing trends and you'll see that right now some of the world's largest marketing organisations, including Unilever and Procter & Gamble, are demanding higher standards and greater accountability from platforms such as Facebook and Google. 

They're fed up with ad fraud, fake profiles and the apparent absence of ethics. 

Consumers themselves are also disillusioned. 

For the past few years, reading the annual Edelman Trust Barometer has been like slowing down to look at a car crash, only to realise that the cars are society and we're all in the back without a seatbelt. 

Trust in social platforms, and even in 'people like us', continues to decline; while trust in traditional media is at an historic high. 

In fact, I'd say there's every chance that in the next few years increased checks and balances, including self-regulation, will become common in other sectors – the brands we may look at enviously now may soon be looking enviously at us instead. 

So, remember that however dizzyingly and distractingly fast the world might be moving right now, it will never move this slowly again. 

There’s never been a better time to slow down and rethink exactly what you want from your social activities, and how to achieve this. 

Importantly, as demonstrated by speakers from companies including Pfizer and Novartis at this month's PharmaComms, 10 years of resilience and commitment has given our sector some stand-out examples to look to for inspiration. 

These are examples that place a premium not just on technology, but on humanity – on society, culture and values. 

So put aside any feelings of FOMO, put aside the questions of "can we do this?" and celebrate the attention to detail that makes your own sector's engagements with its audiences so valuable, rather than looking longingly at those in other industries. 

Yours is a sector that now shows clear leadership, and here's to the next 10 years when it's those leaders who show the rest of them how relationships should really be done. 

Duncan Arbour is senior vice president of innovation at Syneos Health Communications Europe


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