Paid, owned, earned: pharma’s media goals on the social web

While the industry obsesses over whether a ‘lack’ of regulation, adverse event reporting or the unfettered nature of discourse constitute the greatest hindrance to its participation on the social web, there are other more subtle but equally significant obstacles to Pharma’s success that seldom receive the sort of attention they merit.

One of these is the lack of clarity around Pharma’s media goals on the social web.

Judging by the amount of effort expended on and funding allocated to Pharma’s paid media (such as advertising) and owned media (such as websites) presences, the consensus view would appear to be that the industry derives significant value from its continuing support of such activities.

With its predilection for inquiring as to the sort of return on investment that thear activities deliver, one can only assume that each industry participant can demonstrate that this is indeed the case with regard to its own portfolio of paid and earned media properties.

However, such media by definition are incapable of supporting Pharma’s presences on the social web. If paid or owned media ever had utility beyond allowing their architects to demonstrate to their managers that they had ‘achieved’ something at their next performance review, it is questionable as to whether its nature was ever outward-facing rather than inward-looking.

Within Web 1.0, online banner advertisements and branded websites may well have seemed a good idea to Pharma. Of course, the observers whom they were supposed to influence had no way of telling their creators that they didn’t like them, that they hadn’t noticed them, or perhaps that they even served to reinforced their poor impression of the company in question. Silence, which was the only sort of response the read-only web was capable of offering, was construed to signify success.

Within Web 2.0, the data suggest that few of the target audience see or notice paid media such as banner adverts either as a consequence of their having installed advert blockers, or due to their filtering out visually those areas of the screen containing content other than that which they are interested in reading. Owned media fare even worse, with few visitors returning to websites after their initial visit.

So what is left for Pharma on the social web?

Earned media.

Earned media include retweets on Twitter, comments on facebook, reply videos on YouTube, blog posts, and fora discussions. Earned media need not necessarily connote favourable responses.

Earned media differ from paid and owned media not only in their nature, but also in their characteristics.

Firstly, earned media are created by the users and observers of media rather than its publishers. Earned media cannot be purchased. Paid and owned digital media are virtual commodities.

Secondly, and fundamentally, for the purposes of the point we are working towards, earned media see users and observers talking about the publishers’ products and services rather than being told about them.

Earned media are dialogical. Paid and owned media are monological.

Earned media stimulate and are stimulated by conversation. Paid and owned media make statements to a dwindling audience.

Earned media are the mainstay of the read-write, social web. Paid and owned media belong to the era of the read-only web.

Paid and owned media continue to drive Pharma’s activities on the Internet. Earned media continue to struggle for the attention, support, and belief of industry leaders.

Earned media drive engagement through conversation. Earned media can be trust generative for the recipient, augment their credentials, and establish advocacy benefits for them.

Earned media will become the means by which the success of Pharma communications campaigns will be measured.

How much earned media are your activities generating?

3 thoughts on “Paid, owned, earned: pharma’s media goals on the social web

  1. Pingback: links for 2011-07-20 « Brain Music – Gadgets, Neuroscience & More

  2. Brilliant post. There are a few pharma companies willing to make the investment (and take the risks) required to earn media. These initiatives require a long-term vision that is patient-centered first. That ethic means that profit-oriented thinking must take a back seat in the short-term in return for long-term benefits and rewards. Sadly, this generation isn’t up for that sort of sacrifice. For the few companies willing to explore equitable and organically earned media, these tend to be drug companies which need to break into a market that is occupied by bigger players. They have every incentive to try something innovative and defy convention. It is from smaller pharma that we may see the beginnings of any attempts at earned media, if at all.

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