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Social media is transforming the way that people talk about their health and your brand. Information is no longer disseminated just by experts or pharmaceutical marketers, but can come from anyone who is online. Patients, caregivers, doctors, pharmacists and nurses are using blogs, message boards, videos and social networks — think YouTube, Facebook, Twitter — to “talk” about health care. Control of information and your brand message is shifting into their hands.These public, and often large, forums expand the power of these once local and personal discussions. So instead of just relatives and neighbors knowing all about Aunt Millie’s painful arthritis, millions could potentially be aware of her struggle and influence her form of treatment. Social Media Empowers Audiences This accelerating trend means that customers and potential customers are interacting with your brand and each other in totally new ways.They are generating Web content and receiving information from their peers about your brand. The opinions of strangers are often more valued than marketing messages, or even the opinion of physicians. Research shows that 42% of the women surveyed had doubted the opinion or diagnosis of a medical professional due to something they had read on the Internet. (Envision Solutions, 2008) Think of the last hotel you booked, restaurant at which you dined, appliance or car you purchased; how much of your purchase was influenced by peer reviews that you read online? Traditional advertising has been driven by what the brands say about themselves whereas social media is about what the world says about the brand. Our job is to man age the convergence of the two. What Does This Mean For Your Brand? First, recognize that social media is here to stay and is increasing in influence. Second, get comfortable with the lack of control, as Bonnie said to Clyde, “At least they’re talking about us”. Third, don’t be intimidated. Embrace social media and learn to understand the uniqueness of the medium. Ultimately, social media is still a marketing vehicle. And, similar to other marketing vehicles, brands should leverage its power based on the needs and goals of the brand, the specifics of the target audiences, and the risk threshold of the company. Based on our experience and understanding of social media, we follow a process that meets the unique needs of the pharmaceutical industry.The first two components of the overall process include listening and con tributing. Listen Start by listening, to be aware of what is being said online about your brand. While you can’t control what’s being said, you need to be listening to what people are saying. . What are the communities and chat rooms talking about? . Are the consumer drug reviews on WebMD, for example, positive? . Do any videos on YouTube refer to the brand? . What does Wikipedia, which 20% of all physicians use to find information about products say (according to Manhattan Research), say? . What does a Google blog search (http://google.com/blogsearch) turn up? It’s essential that you (or your agency) monitor the online space on a consistent and thorough basis. While brand managers cannot control what is being said, listening to customers and potential customers provides a free market research opportunity to learn what people really think of the brand.This is valuable “insight mining” that can help brand managers better understand their customers and the way in which they relate to the product. People are Talking Behind Your (Brand’s) Back! … And That’s Great News Eileen O’Brien, Director of Online Promotions Compass Healthcare Communications While brand managers cannot control what is being said, listening to customers and potential customers provides a free market research opportunity to learn what people really think of the brand. EMARKETING The results can be powerful. For example, it can lead to a change in the brand’s consumer marketing communications. At launch, based on traditional research, one brand leveraged convenience as its key patient benefit and competitive differentiator in its consumer communications. Initial sales results were below expectations. After listening to key social networks, where patients were talking about this dis ease and treatment options they learned that, for many patients, the fear of self administration was an obstacle to uptake. Another important reason to listen is that user generated content ranks high in search engine results, and negative content can be prominent. When it is, pharmaceutical marketers must take action to protect the brand’s reputation. This starts by monitoring the blogs, discussion boards, and Websites that discuss the brand or health topics relevant to the brand. Contribute Next, marketers can properly contribute to the conversation. Providing accurate and customized content to web sites can help ensure that the brand is appropriately represented online. This is done by identifying who the online influencers are — the websites, discussion boards and blogs that discuss health topics relevant to the client product. Then identify what information you would like each influencer to incorporate or change on their site in order to better represent the brand. In the case of blogs and discussion boards, you or your agency should collaborate with patient advocates and/or KOLs contracted to represent the brand.The advocates and KOLs can post messages on the blogs and boards representing their belief and experience with the product/dis ease, fully disclosing their relationship to the pharmaceutical company. This is especially effective for launch brands or new indications. It’s important that all interactions are trans parent; identify who you are and why you want to con tribute valuable information. Additional components of the process involve enabling a two way conversation with your customers and supporting their communities. There are a multitude of ways a brand can engage and dialogue with its customers based on the individual brand goals and customer situation. This is an evolutionary, ongoing process that requires consistent focus and attention. Success Stories Some examples of companies successfully engaging in social initiatives include GlaxoSmithKline’s Alli Circles community for its over the counter weight loss product. Thousands of patients have participated in this community and 50% of Alli customers prior to purchase went to the site. BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. created PKU.com as part of its disease awareness and patient support efforts. This social network enables patients with phenylketonuria (PKU, an inherited condition) and their family members to share stories, advice and more via message boards. Another example of engagement is the collaboration between LifeScan, which sells OneTouch blood glucose meters, and provides financial support to TuDiabetes.com. Johnson & Johnson has a popular blog, a Facebook page for ADHD moms and recently launched a YouTube channel. What About Adverse Events? In terms of company liability and adverse event reporting, the reality is that most of the dialogue that occurs in the social media space does not qualify, as the identifiers required for FDA reports are not available in a verifiable manner. Our experience has shown that these concerns are navigable and will vary based on the risk tolerance of the company and the brand’s life cycle. Stay Ahead of the Curve The explosive growth of social media has changed the pharmaceutical environment forever. Brand marketing must evolve to keep pace with — and stay ahead of — the curve. At a minimum, this means monitoring the online conversation about brands. To stay ahead of the curve, embrace social media as appropriate. Interactive agencies can help brand managers leverage the full potential of social media to protect and promote their brands. COMPASS HEALTHCARE COMMUNICATIONS is a full service interactive and relationship marketing agency supporting brands in the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and medical device industries, For more information, visit compasshc.com. Traditional advertising has been driven by what the brands say about themselves whereas social media is about what the world says about the brand. Our job is to manage the convergence of the two.