This week I had the immense pleasure of attending SMI’s Social Media in the Pharmaceutical Industry conference. As always I enjoyed the event, catching up with many of the #hcsmeu twitterati and hearing insights from the industry and patients.
The event started for me on Tuesday as I led a workshop looking at how pharma can successfully engage using social media (you can find my presentation here). With a small group we discussed some of the common issues that we still face in this space, for example internal barriers, lack of adequate process and poor understanding of this channel.
Most of these issues have been around for many years now and it does sadden me that they still need to be addressed in so many pharmacos. On the other hand it is great to be able to have a much richer and deeper set of case studies to use in the battle in bringing some of these barriers down. “We can’t because of regulations” clearly no longer cuts it – regulations have been clearly shown to not be a barrier. Another element that appears to still be an issue, and which saddens me greatly, is the view that social media does not need to be approached strategically. Whilst I am a huge advocate of pharma companies getting involved in social media I do not condone or recommend doing social media for the sake of it. There does need to be a clear strategy and plan – otherwise you are just taking pot shots in the dark – and frankly doing any form of business, marketing or communication without a strategy is just plain old bad business.
I was very happy however to see on Day 1 of the conference Stine Sorensen from Lundbeck discussing strategy, and not only its importance but the importance of having a regularly updated strategy (in this case she updates it every 6 months). I was also very happy to hear Stine mention that she now has the review & approval time for social media content down to 25minutes. I have had quite a few clients tell me that 24 hour approval times are unrealisitic so it is great to be able to counter this with the fact that quite a few companies now have process in place for near-to-live response. Not being able to respond very rapidly due to inappropriate review & approval process should no longer be a barrier (and mini self plug – I can help you work this out). In fact Stine supported everything I always say – there is no longer any room for excuses around not doing social media. Those days are gone and, as her slides so beautifully shows, excuses are useless!
Another great presentation was given by my friend Jackie Cuyvers, who recently left ZS to set up her own social listening company. Jackie is an extremely experienced social listener and she now specialises in doing global / local listening. Besides flagging the importance of asking the right, business questions, she talked us through some of the implications of social listening, in particular some of the linguistic and cultural elements that we tend not to think about. She mentioned how even in the same language there are big differences across countries and groups in use of terminology. In the UK for example “pants” means something quite different from “pants” in the US (underwear versus trousers) or the term “good crack” which means different things in the US and Ireland. She also made the point that just translating content directly often totally overlooks cultural nuances and local idiosyncrasies. In English for example we use the term “kick the bucket” but in Slovenia the translation of this term would be “whispering with crabs”. This has potentially huge implications on companies running social listening research, especially if they are dependend on pure technology or English language researchers. I also loved the fact that Jackie got an image of a dog into the conference – tres social!
Jackie’s summary of the 3 steps to social listening
One emphasis that came through throughout the conference though was the importance of patients and the incredible role they play, and the huge value that social media brings to them. The event was actually kicked off by three fabulous ladies, Birgit Bauer, Silja Chouquet and Marlo Donato Love who shared some great insights from a patient’s perspective and mentioned one of my favourite quotes “patients are the most underutilised resource in the pharmaceutical industry”. They talked about the importance of getting patients involved and the role they can play in working with pharma. Silja then also went on to talk about patients participating and “attending” medical conference virtually via social media. In fact she raised the point that whilst doctor’s are the main participants online at conferences patients are also increasingly getting involved as they search for more information on their conditions. She also made some great points about the futility of pharma’s current approach to using promoted tweets and how this is potentially going to be a big issue resulting in dilution of high value content on Twitter.
Perhaps a highlight for me though was Trevor Fossey who talked us through the impact of digital on patients and the NHS. I was nearly crying as he told us that he has access to his NHS medical record online, and that of this wife for whom he cares, and that as of 1st April every NHS patient has a right to access their medical record online. OMG! As a UK patient, with a chronic autoimmune disease, not having access to my medical records has been a big issue. I have been to numerous doctors, privately in the UK and abroad, and have never been able to show them my NHS blood results as I did not have access to them. Of course the fact that I now live abroad and don’t have a GP means in all liklihood I still won’t be able to access them but the realisation of what this means for other UK patients, including my elderly parents, was profound. Trevor mentioned some fantastic points about how impactful empowered patients really are – and how much money they save the NHS. I can tell you I was certainly not the only person in the room blown away but Trevor’s presentation – despite being a room full of digitally savvy people none of us where aware of our right to access our medical records online. Trevor found himself a whole group of advocates at the event (I for one have alreay shared to news to all my UK friends and family).
There were so many other great presentations, such as Letizia Affinito who showed us some great non-pharma case studies, and Pinal Patel from BMS who showed us how they are using social media in clinical trials – and more importantly how they are listening to patients and adapting their process in response to patient feedback. An awesome point was made that often once a trial is over patients are just left alone – but really we should be thanking them and sharing the results with them (something BMS plans to do now thanks to feedback). Charlotte Roth from Actelion also gave the Corporate POV around social media, bringing an additional dimension to the conference, while Liz Skrbkova shared perspectives around multi-channel engagement and online influencers. I also have to add that IMHO Liz was one of the best dressed ladies at the event :)
Last but not least was the pleasure of meeting all these amazing people and having some great discussions, including over wine and dinner. Dinner also gave me the opportunity to catch up with a couple more of the #hcsmeu and the next day I was able to sample some of the most amazing cocktails at the Alchemist in the evening. Afterall what would a social media conference be if it didn’t include the “social” bit!