The day when Sanofi-Aventis’s ‘GoInsulin’ YouTube channel… went

What the Sanofi-aventis 'GoInsulin' channel on YouTube used to look like

Sanofi-aventis recently took down its GoInsulin web presences, including its YouTube channel of the same name.

In the web 1.0 era, taking down a website was no big deal.

People visited. People viewed. People left. People returned to find the site had gone. People shrugged. People moved on.

Not so in the web 2.0 era.

People visit. People view. People leave comments or contribute content if they’re allowed to. Hopefully, the community’s creators respond, and a dialogue is established. People leave. People return to find the site has been taken down and the community that the creators had tried to entice them to sign up to has been broken up without their permission having been asked (or their even having been told), or their having been offered an alternative home.

People get mad.

This assumes that any people had chosen to subscribe to or participate in the platform in question, of course. The last time I checked (30th November 2009), GoInsulin had received 351,830 channel views, had 641 subscribers, and had uploaded 8 videos since its launch on 29th October 2008.

At that time, if we view channel views as a measure of success for the purposes of argument, Sanofi-aventis’ GoInsulin was the biggest pharma channel on YouTube, with over 2.5 times more views than the next largest channel at the time, Johnson & Johnson’s healthchannel (138,416 views on 30th November 2009; 221,742 views on 12th July 2010).

On discovering that the GoInsulin channel had been taken down, I began to wonder how those 641 subscribers (one of whom was me) felt.

There was no need to ask how Johnson & Johnson felt about it, of course. Having just been gifted the title of ‘biggest pharma channel on YouTube’, I imagined that they felt pretty good about the whole thing.

Not so the former GoInsulin subscribers, I suspected. Would they consider themselves to have been pumped and dumped? How would they feel about Sanofi-aventis’s next attempt to engage with them in the future? What was wrong with the channel that they had signed up to? Didn’t it speak to their life as a person with diabetes in 2008? What made it fit for purpose then, but necessitated its being taken down now?

I decided to pose the question at last week’s hcsmeu. Here are a selection of the opinions aired. You can find the full archive (#046) here.

Of all the tweets published in this discussion on a hot and sticky Friday afternoon, I especially agreed with this next one 😉 :

Sabine Kostevc was one of a number of participants who thought to make an observation along the following lines:

Dennis Urbaniak was listening. Here’s how he responded:

Sally Church’s subsequent comment capped the discussion off nicely:

This is another salutory lesson for pharma that every action within the social web has a consequence just as it does anywhere else, and that relinquishing control does not mean that due care and consideration for communities should also be cast aside.

If anything, the industry must look to redouble its resolve in this area if it is to be taken seriously by the constituencies it wishes to petition if it wants to be regarded in a kindly manner by them when it reaches out again in the future.

14 thoughts on “The day when Sanofi-Aventis’s ‘GoInsulin’ YouTube channel… went

  1. It’s very important that companies – Pharma or any other kind – invest the time and thinking needed to be online.

    Shutting down a community – online or off – is about the last thing any leader should have to do.

    The time to consider how to build and cultivate (and respect) communities is *before* you go forth. Once an enterprise decides to go ahead, there’s really no turning back.

    I suspect Sanofi had its reasons: but those reasons should have been contemplated before launching.

    I realize Life Sciences has it rough – it’s regulated, tends to have stiff organizational structures, governance requirements, etc. But there are certain mistakes which aren’t necessary to make. A litte forethought can go a long way.

    I think Pharma has been making it hard on itself, trying to figure out how to “engage patients” (ultimately code for marketing). Rather, I think the industry should take a broader strategic approach.

    There are so many obvious options besides marketing whose benefits Pharma – and the patient community – could benefit from.

    If it pursued a more basic strategy – like learning the ABCs of modern communication – it wouldn’t have find itself in the position of shutting down the very communities which could save the industry from its rusting pipeline matrix.


    • Thanks Phil

      It’s something of an enigma, I agree.

      Sanofi had the most-viewed health channel on YouTube, and they pulled it

      Why would they do that?

      YouTube is the third biggest site on the web ( Sanofi has (in the words of Dennis, quoted above) ‘decided to take a brief hiatus from YouTube’.

      Why would they do that?

  2. The GoInsulin campaign completely ignored 75% to 80% of all insulin users: notably individuals with autoimmune-mediated type 1 diabetes who require insulin for life, not simply for glycemic control. Sanofi’s strategy talked of insulin as a choice, which is NOT the case for every person type 1 diabetes. The company appears to see the error of it’s ways and has pulled the plug on a downright insulting campaign for 3 million Americans with type 1 diabetes. Good riddance!

    • Hi Scott

      Thanks for taking the time to visit STweM, it’s great to have you here 🙂

      Great perspective.

      Had Sanofi been receiving pressure from the T1 d-community to acknowledge this on GoInsulin, do you know?

  3. I suppose I agree with everyone that informing people more broadly would have been better (as Dennis acknowledged), but subscribers were informed, which is the most critical audience.

    At the same time, this is a lot different than if J&J, for example, took down Children with Diabetes. In that example, there’s a vibrant community with thousands of ongoing discussions each day and millions of visitors a year. GoInsulin (for all it’s positives) isn’t Children with Diabetes. There was no community. There was no engagement. You couldn’t comment on videos, much less have a dialog with s-a or other diabetics (it wasn’t designed for this purpose). So, in a lot of ways, it was very “Web 1.0.” Just because it was on YouTube doesn’t mean that it’s social media and that there’s a thriving (or even existent) community.

    So, who did this really affect? Maybe s-a wans to go a different direction with their campaign. Or maybe, as the comments above suggest, they realize that they were missing something for many Type 1 diabetics. Either way, I don’t see how anyone was really affected in a negative way by this channel being removed. Sure, maybe the removal could have been handled differently, but, in the end, I don’t see who really got “hurt” here. If it’s a different “community” maybe the story is different, but that’s not the case.

    Dose of Digital

    • Hi Jonathan

      Here’s the message I received on 28th June to my STweM YouTube channel – shortly to be taken down, with all the content migrating to my andrewspong channel. And yes, I’ve notified my subscribers 😀

      “Dear Friend,

      We’re writing to let you know that as of June 30, 2010 the GoInsulin YouTube channel will no longer be available. Thank you so much for your interest in our channel and being a part of our community. If you’d like to learn more about diabetes and insulin, please visit

      Best wishes,

      The GoInsulin Team”


      “Dear Friend”.

      That says it all, doesn’ it?

      It may have taken a day for a junior staffer to go through this and address the subscribers by name, but as it was, 641 people – 641 people who’d taken the trouble to subscribe – got a form letter.

      That must have made them feel special.

      That must have really fired them up to go ahead and click on the link.

      More to the point:

      In time, Sanofi could have switched on comments in the way that Novartis did recently, having – we assume – found their comfort level.

      Having created the conditions of possibility for a dialogue to take place, they could have gone on to retool the channel.

      If the message was the problem, Sanofi could have reoriented it.

      There’s nowhere in the Big Book Of Social Media Rules (Invisible Edition) where it says you can’t chart a new course within a presence that you maintain on a platform. You can reskin a blog. You can refresh a YouTube channel. What’s the difference?

      Sanofi could and should have found a way of acknowledging the GoInsulin campaign’s existing shortcomings, addressing them, and then revivifying their offering.

      To whit: Sanofi could and should have found a way of reaching out to folk like Scott and the T1 d community who have been affronted by the campaign, and would doubtless already have told them so, and why, but couldn’t because comments were switched off.

      In summary:

      It’s not like these issues have been resolved by Sanofi-aventis having taken the site down – they still fester, and Sanofi’s exit strategy (if you can call pulling the plug an exit strategy) sends out all the wrong signals: old-school broadcast promotion rather than a launchpad to contemporary engagement, and an unwillingness to acknowledge one of the social web fundamentals: once you’re here, you’re here. 90% of what we do is just showing up every day. It helps if the other 10% consists of kick-ass genius ideas, of course, but we have to be known and trusted to be heard.

      All Sanofi had to do was turn the comments on.

      To draw inspiration from today’s well, GoInsulin could have – as a flighty example – morphed into an Old Spice-style platform for video Q&A engagement with people with diabetes. Why not?

      The launch message was irrelevant: again, there’s no reason why YouTube channels have to bang the same drum forever. There’s rather more reason why they should stick around and find something more interesting to do with their channel if interest is waning in their initial offering. Were they looking for ‘more interesting people with diabetes’? Of course not. Did they think ‘this campaign had run its course?’ I sincerely hope not, as I’d not like the inference that Sanofi has a ‘campaign mentality’ when it think about what it could do within the social web.

      This was Sanofi’s diabetes YouTube channel.

      It was also the most viewed pharma health channel on YouTube.

      Now it’s gone.

      Sanofi’s relinquishing of this vehicle and the strong subscriber base it had attracted as a means of continuing to develop its presence on the third biggest website in the world makes no sense whatsoever to me.

      If I’d been in the room when the decision was made to let GoInsulin go dark, I’d have locked the door and not let anyone out until they saw it for the bad, bad idea it was.

      Now, Sanofi are back to square one. In fact, they’re not even on the board at the moment, having decided to ‘take a brief hiatus from YouTube’.

      Another bad, bad idea.

      When and if they do return, they’ll have to climb the mountain all over again – except this time, their former followers will think twice before clicking the ‘subscribe’ button.

      And no-one is going to blame them.

      • I guess I’m with you, but I still have one issue. Mainly it’s that YouTube isn’t designed to be a place for dialog and discussion. It’s a place to post videos and for people to comment on them (if comments are on). If you want to have discussions that include a true community, YouTube isn’t the place for it. Technically, it’s not how the site works. Comments aren’t threaded properly, there are no “topics”, etc. If you want a community, then create Children with Diabetes.

        We didn’t lose a community, just a place where several videos were organized under a common user name (GoInsulin). The videos are still available if you really want to find them. If we’re counting YouTube channels as “communities” mow, I’m even more worried about the state of affairs in social media.

        Dose of Digital

        • Yes, as a place to conduct a conversation, YouTube is far from perfect. No, you can’t nest conversations, and yes, it’s easy to lose the thread.

          And yet: look at the conversations that do take place beneath frequently-viewed YouTube videos. People are @ing (as well as swearing at and defaming ;)) other users continually, even though there is no mechanism to transmit the message to the intended recipient, and the poster of the comment is relying upon the individual to whom they have addressed their remark to return to the thread and do a hand search of comments in order to be able to see their contribution. Messy, and yet people do it anyway.

          Was it envisaged that YouTube would be a site within which discussions take place? We suspect not. Do discussions take place within the comments area? Yes they do.

          Perhaps YouTube may even roll out threaded comments functionality. Stranger things have happened.

          It would be interesting to compare the number of comments left on YouTube with the number of comments left on other platforms (‘all blogs’, Facebook, LinkedIn et al, and how you’d go about measuring that, I’ve no idea). Bearing in mind the volume of traffic YouTube generates, it may be the second most social place on the web (after Facebook, one would imagine), thumbing its nose at its creators’ design as users apply what it offers in a way that suits them.

          So no, let’s not feel compelled to call YouTube in general and the recently departed GoInsulin in particular a ‘community’, but let’s acknowledge that YouTube in general (but not, alas, GoInsulin prior to its cessation) is a place where people do exchange opinions.

          Where people commune, do we find community also?

          Of a sort, perhaps.

  4. Andrew,

    The original post has resulted in some very interesting and relevant comments so I thought I would add a few more, thanks again for the posting so that we can reference this dialogue in future for those that may find it valuable. Here are my takeaway points from these observations that I personally have found most valuable:

    – from Phil Baumann – taking a broader strategic approach while following some basic communication principles can create a greater environment for succes, also a key point for me is that companies that understand the difference between marketing and communication will be companies that are more successful building a credible presence in communities, digital or other
    – from Scott – I acknowledge Scott’s point about our lack of focus on people with Type 1 diabetes. Rather than offer additional words with reasons, etc. which will most likely have no value to Scott, I think we need to act differently going forward in all aspects (marketing, communication, support) in the area of Type 1. Until we demonstrate that, I take this as an important frustration that we need significant improvement in addressing. I can clarify that while an extremely relevant point overall, this particular issue did not factor in to the GoInsulin decision. Clearly it needs to be in all efforts going forward but it is up to us to demonstrate in our actions that we are actually hearing this.

    – from you and from Jonathan – two main takeaways from me, first is the way we handled the change was simply bad across the board. I happen to agree completely and as the individual who ultimately is responsible for this action at the company (the teams that managed this effort now report directly in to my new business unit in the US) I take full responsibility for this action and accept the criticism on the approach. Similar to the point above related to Scott’s position, I don’t see a lot more that I can say right now that would really be meaningful to those bringing forward the remarks, I fully accept them and feel that the best approach now is to take different actions in the future that are obviously more appropriate, understanding there is significant work to be done. The second takeaway is that there are many different types of communities who exist in many different formats who leverage many different tools to create the community. Companies that aspire to create a credible presence within a community, need to be prepared to support that community in a sustainable manner.

    Andrew, if I try to look for positives coming out of this dialogue for us, I have yet another crystal clear example of power of these discussions through the feedback we receive, whether positive or negative. As we progress at our company we continue to learn. For us it started with the general awareness of social media, what is it? why is it important? how can you get started? Then we moved to some important experience about what to do once you get started including monitoring and being prepared for a potential crisis situation. Now as we spend more time and try to move to a true integrated approach, we are learning what it really takes to sustain a place in the discussion and evolve that level of participation in a manner that continues to value and respect the community. In hindsight, many of these points should be obvious already, but sometimes you simply have to act and learn in order to truly build new skill sets and drive fundamental change across an organization. While you can point to this latest topic as another bad pharma example showing that we just don’t get it, I remain energized by the fact that my organization is committed to stay, to improve, and to ulitmately deliver many more positive examples in the future.


  5. Great post that sparked some fabulous discussion – well done gents. I think that it is tremendous that Sanofi Aventis came forward (through the personal comments of Dennis Urbaniak) to respond and also share his thoughts and the learnings. As we all do more in this social space it is great to #failbetter – share where things work and where they don’t. This debate and discussion is really healthy and the learnings mustn’t get lost (step forward the #hcsmeu wiki where I will reference back to this blog post).

    @aurorahealthpr ^NC

    • As do I.

      Dennis is to be commended for his willingness to participate and engage. It’s a sure sign that Sanofi will get it right more often in the future as they get better at failing.

      Failure is constructive, not shameful.

      We should all strive to #failbetter, but also ask ourselves not to make the same mistake twice, otherwise there’s no virtue in it.


  6. Pingback: The Business of Diabetes: Death of Sanofi Aventis’ “GoInsulin” YouTube Channel – Good Bye, or Good Riddance? « despre diabet

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