What are we really asking in posing the question ‘is pharma afraid of social media?‘
For once, we’ll disregard the usual preliminary objections concerning the identity of the companies we assume we are referring to, and the unhelpfully homogeneous bulk descriptor ‘pharma’, which we burden with the expectation of being capable of speaking to all sizes of pharmaceutical company, across all territories, in all languages, for all disease areas.
Instead, let’s turn to an interrogation of the question itself:
Firstly, there are many pharma companies who have undertaken, or who are undertaking, a diversity of socially-driven activities across platforms of whom this question can no longer be asked justifiably.
If these companies ever were afraid of using social media, they appear to have got over their misgivings.
Secondly, we are hard pushed to discover evidence of regulatory bodies disclosing pharma’s scandalous abuses of codes of practice in social environments on a daily basis. Scan through the PMCPA’s completed cases, for example, and you’ll find the usual litany of promotional, sponsorship-related, and ‘educational’ misconduct in settings other than then Social Web, but scant reference to social platforms themselves.
I recall one case a year or so ago of a promotional tweet being published by mistake, and a facebook page with some promotionally-worded messages that had been left in the code of a pop-up. Both of these cases looked like human error to me at the time rather than an attempt to pervert the code covertly, and the mere idea that such an action could be feasible within the highly visible context of the Social Web is ludicrous in any case.
I can’t bring any other instances to mind, but do feel free to share examples you may have encountered.
Pharma employees need only fear the management of adverse events and product complaints from digital media if they elect to wilfully disregard the guidance that already exists, and fail to trust their own intelligence.
In short, in social settings there seems to be only a marginal reason for claiming that pharma has anything to fear. Whilst pharma’s activities on the social web may be far from optimal in terms of their delivering what pharma’s communities of interest would actually like to receive (e.g. balanced, relevant, reliable, accessible health information, delivered informally, conversationally, transparently, and without a data-scrape), they aren’t creating much of a stir.
Thirdly, robust pathways to social have already been laid by early pharma adopters and commentators that late entrants can make swift and sure-footed progress along should they so wish.
Any number of books, blog posts and ‘how to’ tactical guides already exist. I apologise for not being able to link you to any examples of the latter due to NDAs, but I’ve personally written five such documents for clients in the last 18 months, and have no doubt whatsoever that numerous other in-house and outsourced guides continue to be composed and revised.
Fourthly, to abstain from undertaking an action due to a fear of the possible consequences that may arise from doing so infers that were the threat to be removed and the associated risk thereby mitigated, the party in question would happily embark upon the undertaking that formerly caused it concern.
However, when we consider pharma’s attitude towards social media, I do not believe that we can say this is the case.
Rather, I would argue that no pharma company to date has shown any interest in becoming a social business.
Having a corporate Twitter presence no more makes a pharma company a ‘social business’ than putting ‘digital’ in one’s job title makes one a digital expert.
Pharma companies have every reason to fear the long-term consequences of the sterility and alienation that will be the inevitable consequence of their refusal to drive social business practices through their enterprises.
And that really is something to be afraid of.