Social media are revolutionary technologies in every sense of the word.
Communications that are not dialogues are best described as pronouncements.
Businesses that are not striving to be social are best described as facing an uncertain future.
What defines a social business?
There are numerous considerations, but perhaps the most cohesive, comprehensive and compelling account that I have encountered to date has been David Armano‘s concept of the four stages of social business.
The social business paradigm poses fundamental challenges for all industries, but is particularly provoking for the Pharma industry.
Not unreasonably, most Pharma companies align themselves in one context or another with some sort of strap line that wants to foreground the fact that their businesses aim to help people live better lives, qualitatively or quantitatively.
Not unreasonably, most Pharma companies also want to draw attention to the fact that they are in reasonably rude health themselves, financially.
That’s good, too.
There should be no contradiction between the social evolution of a business, and its aspirations to continue to deliver strong revenue generation.
The next generation of life saving, life prolonging, life enhancing medications aren’t going to develop themselves. The personalized medicine agenda also poses numerous complex and initially extremely expensive challenges to drug development.
However, the way that the industry presents itself to all of its stakeholders in social environments such as Twitter needs to be conscious of the fact that when considered in isolation, a triumphalist tweet about an exceptional quarter’s financials may make entirely the wrong sort of impression on a patient seeking out the company’s presences in order to acquire health information.
As it moves through the stages of social business, the Pharma industry could usefully reflect upon the fact that whilst it may consider itself to be doing a good job in demarcating the types of content it publishes in such a way as to signal its intended audience, the audience itself may be neither aware of such tacit protocols, nor amenable to them if it could indeed discern them.
The impact of Pharma electing to draw boundaries around the content it publishes on the social web that may be visible only to itself could be widespread, far-reaching, and subtle in the effect that they have upon the industry’s relations with other communities of interest.
That impalpable quality could be subtly pernicious rather than subtly elusive.
How, for example, could top-level financials be presented in such a way as to help laypeople understand why it is important that the industry remain strongly profitable in order to continue to be attractive to the investors that will support their business in the future, rather than just baldly stating the numbers which may serve to alienate or enrage them independently?
Following the precepts of social business affords Pharma the opportunity to make manifest what it frequently lays claim to: to serve the patient’s needs at all times.
Not all of the patient’s needs are pharmaceutical. Some, for example, are educational.
In focusing on serving all the patient’s needs, all the time, the pharma industry can serve its shareholders.
It doesn’t work the other way around.