There has been a considerable amount of discussion this week in the health care blog world regarding Google sidewiki, a new addition to the Google Toolbar allowing a user to ‘contribute helpful information to any web page’.
Phil Baumann, Steve Woodruff, John Mack and ePharma Rx have posted thoughtful contributions, whilst the #hcsmeu, #hcsm and #hcmktg communities have all alighted upon the question. Debate has polarized between those who think the issue is irrelevant until such time as sidewiki has a substantial user base (‘if no-one is watching, nothing is happening’), and those who consider that a breach has been made in the pharma marketing dam (‘regardless of who is watching, something is happening’).
For the record: I side with the latter position.
Google sidewiki posts will only be visible to those who also have the tool installed and active in their browser. Individuals can edit, delete or share their own posts, but apart from flagging entries as not being useful, nothing can be done by the owners of the website in question to mediate the comment that has been left other than respond to it.
This, of course, is the issue for pharma: will any given company want, or be able, to engage in debate regarding ‘helpful information’ added to its yourdrugnamehere.com websites when it may consider the information submitted as being far from ‘helpful’ with regards to its own marketing strategies.
What if the information (which could, of course, include a patient reporting an adverse event) receives a lot of ‘Useful?’ approvals? (see below).
John Mack has forced the issue by leaving sidewiki posts on the US Viagra and Alli sites to see what response, if any, is forthcoming from Pfizer and GSK:
At the time of posting, John’s Viagra post had received nine positive votes and one negative vote. This is something of a test case, of course, as the health care social media community is currently interested in, and aware of, this topic.
Nevertheless, these interventions have moved the debate from the theoretical to the factual.
Google sidewiki comments now exist on these sites (sidewiki users may wish to check out Alli’s UK site too; click ‘next’ in the bottom right hand corner)
Predictably, pharma is nowhere to be seen. All of the blog posts listed above (but especially Phil Baumann’s) make some valuable suggestions as to how pharma should deport itself. In essence, these can be distilled into one word strategy:
At the heart of this conflagration is the industry’s reputation as being controlling, remote, and faceless, which it presently richly deserves.
However, over the last twelve months I have both interacted online and met face-to-face with scores of pharma employees who have overturned many of my own preconceptions about the industry being peopled solely by soulless corporate drones obeying the will of their paymasters and overlords. That’s not to say that there may not be legions of the latter in the sallying ranks of the pharma army, but that’s not my concern.
Rather, I’d like to see the principled, engaged individuals that these companies are lucky enough to have on their payrolls do what they want to do, namely begin to transition their marketing strategies from the transactional to the relational mode using social media.
With Google sidewiki allowing annotation downs to tweet level, right now is an ideal time for pharma to begin to engage. This tool may or may not set a fire under web users’ imaginations, but the next innovation may.
Pharma needs to prepare for an historical inevitability: the appearance of unmediated, non-approvable, unblockable user comments on their websites.