In one of the most insightfully named sessions at SXSW (Social Health: Who Wants to “Like” Hemorrhoid Cream?), digital marketer Carlen Lea Lesser poised a stark question to a Pharma marketer: why would anyone want to “Like” a Pharma brand on Facebook?
The point wasn’t so much that Pharma brands are unlikeable. Far from it, they save lives and improve real people’s health every day. But the brand equity of most Pharma products is directly linked to a specific aliment or disease, things that are not necessarily “likable.” Lesser’s metaphor echoes a much larger issue for Pharma marketers, something Porter Novelli has written about before: When it comes to social media, what exactly does Pharma want?
Like nearly all other industries, Pharma marketers are anxious to use social media to market their products. But often that anxiousness reduces what should be a complex planning process into a series of simple declarative statements, often shouted with excitement: “We need a blog!”: “We need to be on Twitter!”: “We need a Facebook Page!” But unlike other industries, the very next question from Pharma is: “How are we going to get this through our legal and regulatory process?”
That, Lesser says, is the problem. The first question Pharma marketers ask about social media should not be about how a social media program can launch in the strict FDA and adverse event requirements (which are, according to Lesser, one of the biggest “Red Herrings” in Pharma), but rather why the social media program is going to be created in the first place. Lesser echoes Forrester much lauded POST social planning methodology and urges Pharma marketers to ask tough questions upfront, before anything is built and before any new hash tag campaigns are created. Why do we need a blog? What do we hope to accomplish? Why do we need to be on Twitter? What are our objectives? How will we measure success?
For Facebook, the most common objective is to be Liked (which, as I noted in a recent Ad Age article, does not guarantee that your brand will be heard). But again, why would someone “Like” a medication on Facebook? Even if a customer decided to “like” a pharmaceutical product, then what? How does a Pharma marketer use Facebook to deepen its relationship with its fans and customers?
Lesser offered no easy answers here, but did provide a smart principle that can be applied to all aspects of Digital Marketing: whatever a brand does in social media, it has to provide real value to the customer. Unlike traditional TV advertising that follows a push model to reach consumers social media is about engagement. The trick, Lesser says is to create something that holds value for a brand, but that is also engaging to the consumer. Easier said than done for sure, but it’s one of the many reason why there is a plethora of Pharma brand websites with little traffic, blogs with little comments, and twitter accounts with little followers.
Finally, Lesser said that the fear of FDA regulation of social media is completely overblown. Many in the industry have been critical of the vagueness of FDA’s policies regarding social media, and are anxious to review the much-delayed, yet-to-be-released revised guidelines. Lesser said that we have all the clarity that we already need, and Pharma reluctance to engage is social media is unfounded.
This echoes Porter Novelli’s previous statement about where the FDA is and what to expect from the social media new regulations. I won’t get into it here (you can read our thoughts here…I will also be speaking on this topic in Toronto next week here), but know that the biggest social media issue for Pharma isn’t how to get past the regulations. It’s how to do something that is genuinely worth liking.