Pharmaceutical company Novartis has been experimenting with social media technologies, which is something I am entirely pleased about – every company in this industry that makes SocMed efforts should be applauded for doing so, even if some early applications are limited, tentative, and less than fully “social.” Pharma is a highly-regulated industry, and what looks ludicrously conservative to some on the outside can be quite leading edge in this highly-scrutinized bubble.
So I was very interested to see that Novartis recently unveiled a trifecta approach to building a cystic fibrosis (CF) audience. First out of the gate was CFVoice, “an online community for people of all ages living with cystic fibrosis. A place for motivation, inspiration and connection to the CF community.” This site has now been joined by CFChristopher, who is on Twitter and Facebook (fan page) – as Novartis explains it, “Christopher Morgan is a fictional character created by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation as an educational resource for the cystic fibrosis community. His story is inspired by research and interviews with people with CF, their friends, healthcare providers and caregivers.”
These social media properties are completely “unbranded” from a product perspective, with Novartis’ sponsorship clear yet low-key, and they represent an effort to use on-line technology/communities to educate and support people with CF.
So, how are they doing?
Let’s start with the Twitter page, which has only been up for a few weeks. Not surprisingly, there are relatively few tweets, and they are a mix of links to CFVoice and Facebook, plus some efforts to sound semi-hip. Nobody is being followed, and as of this writing, there are only 55 followers (some of whom are Novartis employees). The idea here is to try to create a persona of someone living a life with CF – but thus far, there isn’t much meat on those bones. It’s just some pictures of a young-looking guy and I get no sense (yet) from Twitter what living with CF is all about. I hope that will change. The fact that Christopher is a fictional character is disclosed prominently here (as on Facebook), which is a definite positive. But how will CF patients react?
The Facebook page is in a similar state of development. About 100 fans, a few entries, some references to the Twitter account and the CF Voice site…just not much of interest yet. Because it’s still relatively new, I won’t call it “lame” yet, but if it remains on the current vector, that won’t be an inaccurate description.
Bottom line – creative concept but still in Phase 1 study mode. Tying Facebook, Twitter, and other web properties together is certainly a solid direction. We’ll wait and see.
The community website CF Voice is much more developed. Start here, with a well-made video story about the making of a song (Breathe). This is a great use of multimedia to underscore the realities of living with a disease.
The navigation metaphor is age-range related, with different sections for various age groups – smart, since CF is a condition that can afflict people at all ages, and needs differ (for instance, you’d never use this nav architecture for a condition like COPD).
I started playing a game in the 6-8 year old section, and my 8-year old heard the noises, came over, figured out the game in a snap, and told me what I was doing wrong (thanks, Seth!). This simple web-based games and challenges for kids are fun, appropriate, and educational.
The teen section has video testimonials of kids living with CF, and a Mentor U section for advice, along with podcasts and recipes. The design is up-to-date and straightforward, with good use of colors and graphics, and I could see this being an encouraging place for someone afflicted with CF to come and not feel alone in the world. The 18-24 section similarly has an age-appropriate library of videos and podcasts, along with other resources. There is even a movie (“Raising Meghan”) that follows one family’s struggle to prepare their daughter (who has CF) for an independent life.
There are tabs for Adults, and for Parents/Caregivers as well; a lot of the content categories (videos, recipes, spread the word, etc.) mirror the teen and young adult sections.
The site has a short film (23 minutes), “Becoming Christopher,” which introduces the Christopher character who is seen on Facebook and on Twitter. Good tie-in.
CFVoice was awarded a Medical Marketing & Media Gold Award in 2008 for best website. It’s a fine example of what a pharmaceutical company can do with an “unbranded” patient support site that adds value without promoting products. Two thumbs up for the entire approach, and let’s hope that “Christopher” finds his voice more effectively on Twitter and Facebook as well.
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