Part I – Pharmas and social networking

I was talking to some folks at a  big global pharma last week and I discovered that pharma doesn’t like social networking.    (Give me a break – I’m a software security guy, I think about these things in terms of threats to intellectual property and I thought everyone “gets” social networking). If you understand how pharmaceuticals are sold, this is not surprising but it seemed worthwhile to take some time and learn more about the great pharma-social networking divide before diving into a more detailed discussion of why pharmas have a problem with social media (mostly regulation but not just).

Pharmas don’t do social networking – but they know how a bit about Web marketing. Even notoriety is publicity – I think the saying goes.

“Pharma still fears social networking” -Pharmaceutical (as well as medical device) companies lag far behind other industries in the adoption of “Web 2.0” technologies like social networking, blogs, wikis, podcast and RSS.

or for example, this item on the KillerStartups.com web site, obviously posted to draw traffic in search engines – since Sanofi-Aventis is a shall we say, somewhat more popular search phrase than KillerStartups.com

One of the top 5 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Sanofi Aventis portfolio includes research and development and manufacturing of new medications. They cover 7 major therapeutically areas: cardio, thrombosis, oncology, diabetes, CNS, internal medicine and vaccines. The site has loads of information concerning the company such as: Press releases, material targeted to draw the attention of possible investors, access to the Research and development section where you can learn about the newest medications as well as their future plans and their clinical trails plus guests can apply for the different clinical research experiments.

On the other hand – it’s really easy to try out social media and see if you get traction. The energy barrier is so low and the leverage on Youtube is so high, it’s an irresistible force moving a very heavy object:

Sanofi Aventis and AstraZeneca Launch YouTube Sites – Social media has been a buzzword in the pharmaceutical industry for the past few years (see ePharma Summit), but few companies have crossed the line into the world of social networking or conducting two-way conversations with patients online.

The Sanofi channel is part of its integrated GoInsulin campaign, an unbranded health education program designed to give people more information about diabetes and serve as a launching pad to the Sanofi homepage. It features an array of patient videos and a link to an off-site, online game that separates the myths about insulin from reality. The channel has no branded drug material, but lists the company’s name below the top banner.

Although social media like Twitter is dominantly about personal opinions and experiences, social software such as blogs, micro-blogs and file sharing have important collaborative applications.

For example – like how to integrate all the information and care of a patient with multiple issues and care-givers (a typical MSA patient will have a GP, neurologist, speech therapist, physiotherapist, nutritionist and primary care giver at home who is usually the  husband or wife of the patient with problems of their own. Speaking before a conference of the Case Management Society of America in October 2007, Tim Rothwell from Sanofi Aventis discussed their commitment to help resolve problems of collaborative care

The issues and challenges of poor transitions of care, said Rothwell, are critically important to him personally and to Sanofi-Aventis as a company. ‘The problem, of course, is a healthcare system that, for many – particularly those who get bounced around within it – is fragmented and sometimes even frightening,’ Rothwell observed. ‘For those who have family members or friends who have experienced repeated encounters with the healthcare system, the only consistent thing they believe it delivers is confusion and, sometimes, flawed outcomes.’

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