Archive for the ‘Social Media’ Category

…and you need to Uncheck the Box in order to keep your name and face from being used by third-party advertisers.

LinkedIn just unveiled new privacy settings, and they default to some things you probably don’t want.

Over on my Connection Agent blog, I provide you with the 3-step instructions (including screen shots) for how to preserve your privacy. Facebook tried this stunt months ago and provoked an uproar. Given that my blog post has been viewed over 18,000 times in 5 hours, it’s clear LinkedIn users are quite concerned (and changing the settings!)

Go to the instructions NOW.


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If you’ve followed my writing and speaking over the years, you know I’ve been a big proponent of social media as a vehicle for communications, network-building, and new business approaches. And I absolutely believe – more than ever – in the power and utility of digital networked communications

I was among the first in the pharma universe to begin blogging and tweeting pharma/healthcare topics. The first time I used Twitter at an industry conference, I wondered if I might be discovered and tossed out!

In fact, I even put together the first published list of pharma folks and companies active in social media – which, at the time, was a pretty small group! That number has since grown considerably, which is a very good thing.

As the industry has evolved, however, I can’t help but ask the question – is it time to give up on the idea of commercial prescription pharma interactively participating in the open, public social media space using current platforms? (please note the careful choice of words before having a knee-jerk reaction).

I’m not giving an answer – I’m asking a question. Here are the streams of thought feeding into this inquiry:

1. The FDA has shown zero readiness to give guidance about the use of on-line media in pharma communications. They are ready, however, to send warning letters about perceived violations in an ad-hoc fashion. This seriously inhibits pharma companies from getting involved. Regulatory fear does not go along well with open, public discussion.

2. The nature of current social media approaches and tools demands real-time interactive response and dialogue, out in the wilds of digital space. Pharma does not and cannot communicate that way.

  • Facebook demands interactivity and informal 2-way communication. Pharma companies are forced to come up with all kinds of work-arounds to make Facebook something other than it is, in order to participate. It’s like trying to enter a canoe into a speedboat race.
  • Twitter demands short bursts of communication. Pharma communications (prescription brands) demand fair balance, context, long explanation, disclaimers, and all kinds of monitoring/reporting. Would a congressman reading a speech from a teleprompter fit nicely at a cocktail party?
  • LinkedIn is all about the individual professional. Nice platform for recruiting, even in pharma. But my experience with pharma folks (I have years of it) on LinkedIn is that interactivity is almost nil. Pharma professionals live and work in an atmosphere of non-openness. You can sow seed on a gravel driveway, but don’t expect much of a harvest.
  • YouTube is one place where pharma companies can participate on a social platform, as long as you strip it down to, essentially, one-way broadcast and storytelling. It’s not social, but it is media.

3. Pharma companies tend to rotate commercial professionals (sales, training, marketing, etc.) through their job roles every 1-3 years. This means a constant default to short-term thinking. However, successful involvement in public social platforms demands long-term commitment and readiness to innovate. As soon as a little bit of expertise begins to accumulate, it’s time to move on to the next rung up the ladder (personally, I think that this, and the bondage of short-term quarterly profit reporting, are the two biggest hidden killers of pharma companies making true inroads in social networking).

4. Social media is moving rapidly to point-to-point on-demand mobile communications (including real-time UGC of all sorts, location data, commerce, and fragmented data streams). Pharma is all about centralized, one-way, controlled communications. Black, meet white.

We could go on, but the point is this: Public, interactive, real-time social media platforms and commercial pharma communications simply don’t mesh well. At all. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Stuff you can easily say about other industries really isn’t going to translate well to pharma (as much as I like Chris Brogan, he’s out of his league on this post).

Is that a death knell for social media usage across all areas of pharma? Not at all. Non-branded communications can occur on existing public platforms, albeit often with a good dose of restrictions and care. Non-public networks (private communities) are a fruitful area of valuable involvement. Private, internal social networks (Yammer and the like) are potentially hugely useful apps for digital networked communications. One-way storytelling, while not fully social, can still add value, even in the public sphere (if done very carefully). Mobile apps that provide information or services are great – though again, they are using social-ish platforms in a less-than-fully-social fashion.

Also, the maturation of a platform like Google Plus could lead to more controlled communications to distinct, defined groups – and that is where the future could well be brighter.

Commercial, prescription pharma communications happen within thickly-walled gardens. The open, public social web is anything but that – and it’s not going to change for the pharma industry. Current platforms make it very difficult to marry the two. The future may well lie in walled social gardens, but existing approaches are still maturing through the wild west stage. Maybe we should expend less concern about “getting on Facebook” or Twitter, and architecting a social strategy that fits the industry – rather than trying to fit this square industry peg into a round, shape-shifting hole.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Add your comment!


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By now, most pharma/biotech/med device companies have concluded that social media is important, is here to stay – and somehow needs to be included in future communications.

Most large companies have at least begun the process of hashing out the use of social media – how to use the various platforms, governance, internal ownership, content approval, SOP development, risk mitigation strategies, etc., etc.

If your company is looking to be in this (unavoidable) race, how do you get to the starting line?

In the early years of pharma social media (I’m only talking about 3-4 circuits around the sun, now!), typically one or two advocates emerged within a company and began the long process of evangelizing, with a lot of process development and pilot projects happening on the fly. Others leaned on digital agencies to help jump-start the process (or as an outsource partner).

Organic internal initiative, or high-priced agency intervention, each can have their place. But….

Here’s another idea – consider hiring on a Social Media Sherpa.

Sherpas, in mountaineering terms, are local guides to help people climb imposing mountains such as the Himalayas. Sherpas know the landscape, provide guidance, and can do a lot of the heavy lifting.

A Social Media Sherpa can be engaged for 3-9 months to help you get to the starting line. A sherpa knows the platforms, the tools, the regulatory environment – he or she already has experience in digital networks and can serve as the initial guide and trainer to safely move the company forward into the world of social networks.

Getting started involves a lot of collaboration and process development, and to be successful you want an experienced guide who has walked these paths beforehand. This may be one of the most valuable consulting retainers you ever invest in.

Realistically, I can work with only one client at a time doing a sherpa engagement, but there are others who have the corporate/social media experience and makeup to do this really well. If your company would benefit from this approach, let me know. I can make the right connections for you.

(Image credit)


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Last week, I had the privilege of taking part in the annual SPBT (Society of Pharmaceutical and Biotech Trainers) Conference (Orlando this year – but next year, New Orleans!)

My review will consist of scattered thoughts on topics that stood out to me. So, here we go…

Facility: we were housed at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. The place was humongous, with a great variety of restaurants and bars, and capacity to accommodate multiple events easily. It is more of a corporate destination than a family resort, but if you do like golf and poolside lounging – well, you’ve got that big time at the Creek. Plus, my reserved room wasn’t ready upon check-in so I got upgraded to an executive suite. No, I did NOT argue – especially since my bride of 30 years came down for a few days afterward and we got to remain in the suite (thanks, front desk folks)!

Did you know that Orlando’s Shingle Creek is the headwaters for the Everglades? Neither did I.

Organization: I will make a prediction right now: next year’s SPBT event – and all that leads up to it – will be very different from what we’ve seen in the past! We’ve had some transition during 2010/2011 and I think that new directions being set by Managing Director Kevin Kruse, President Mike Capaldi, and others will be very exciting. This year’s show seemed quite well-organized, and it was good to see Scott Sauve, Christine Gaudet, and Miki St. Clair (among others) actively making things run smoothly. There’s a lot of fresh thinking going on behind the scenes. Stay tuned!

Exhibit Hall: This year, the facility layout allowed the exhibit area to be right next to the main ballrooms, plus all the workshop rooms were in easy walking distance. We’ve had some difficulties with layout in past years but this event was optimal for creating booth traffic. Booths continue to be more modest in size compared to some of the go-go growth years. And, as expected, there were lots of iPads about, with various proto-apps being shown. I maintain that iPad development will be one of the few bright spots in training development over the next two years.

It was great to see my pals from Advantage Performance Group exhibiting for the first time at SPBT!

Keynotes: Dan Pink, author of the book Drive (among others), was fabulous. And while it was good to hear directly from Jim Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame – a wonderful milestone in our space program), his talk was little more than a re-telling of the tale you saw in the movie by Tom Hanks. Yes, it’s an inspirational story, but to be perfectly honest, there was nothing in the keynote that was particularly new, instructive, or actionable. It may seem heretical to say it, but I was kind of disappointed.

Workshops: As always, a mix of really good and maybe-not-so-great. Of course, I was only able to attend a handful among the dozens offered. Some of the workshop rooms were too small (upstairs), while some of the downstairs rooms had 35-foot ceilings that swallowed up the speakers and acoustics. For people in the sales training business (both client and vendor side), I’m still perplexed by how many don’t create immediate audience engagement through skillful storytelling; and there is still far too much Powerpoint-as-data-delivery-device going on. Sigh. (note: Brian Lange’s session on Rock Star Openings was a great example of audience engagement and actionable info – I actually made changes to my next-day workshop on Advancing your Career Through Social Media based on Brian’s content!)

Social Media: There is slow uptake of social networking among pharma professionals, and still plenty of hesitation as evidenced by the attendee input during my workshop. The Social Media Shack in the exhibit hall did have some visitors, however, and some folks got started on Twitter during the conference. The good news is that much of the new leadership “gets” social media and is helping to raise the profile of digital networking. I put up a link with some networking resources, including an updated e-book on getting started with social networking, as a follow-up. SPBT on Twitter, by the way, is @spbt_tweets.

Networking: The great value of SPBT for me is the networking, with colleagues new and old. It was absolutely non-stop this year, including two very enjoyable dinners out (thanks to my friends at Verilogue, and Yukon Group). After about 15 years of rubbing shoulders with him at SPBT gatherings, I got to have an in-depth talk with Jim Trunick (Allergan) during one of those evenings and was delighted to see how the passion to excel still burns bright in him.

Our industry is in transition, and SPBT is in transition as well. I’m looking forward to seeing where some new ideas and approaches take the organization in the coming years. Can’t wait for New Orleans in 2012 (though Orlando sunsets are hard to beat)!


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Two years ago that I released this e-book, specifically designed to help business professionals get started with social networking.

A lot has changed since then in social networks, though many of the core principles and practices remain. This 2011 edition features a number of updated links and resources, including an Appendix specifically for pharmaceutical professionals.

During this week’s SPBT conference in Orlando, I’ll be giving a workshop on the theme of Advancing your Career through Social Media.

If you know someone looking for help getting started with social networking – feel free to forward this free resource along!

Getting Started Social Networking 2011


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I really probably shouldn’t write, or publish, this post.

You’re not supposed to write stuff up when you’re really infuriated.

I’m going to publish it anyway.

Today, at the ePharma Summit conference, we had the much-anticipated talk by Thomas Abrams, Director of DDMAC/FDA. Tom seems like a nice enough guy and this rant isn’t about him personally. We’d probably enjoy a nice talk over a Samuel Adams Winter Ale. It’s about the monstrosity we were subjected to – an overview of the no-decision-making process of this watchdog of American health, the FDA.

If you’re trying to keep up with social media, it’s like racing with speed skaters. What we were subjected to, for 45 minutes, was a description of a Zamboni. Now with bigger brakes!

DDMAC has ostensibly been on the verge, after many months of deep ponderings, of giving some BASIC guidance to the pharma industry about the use of social media in public communications. Turns out nothing of the sort is imminent. In fact, after today’s overview, I’ve sketched out what I believe must be the (simplified) version of the FDA no-decision-making process:

I am now convinced that the industry cannot count on helpful, pro-active, useful, timely guidance from DDMAC. If I’m not mistaken, FDA never even came out with guidance about the web 1.0 Internet. And now our digitally-networked world is evolving even faster (ironically, FDA is making pretty good use of social media tools – for themselves). Social media does not move at a glacial pace – it’s a sprint. Whatever comes out of this mill in 10 years or so will be about as helpful as guidance about the proper use of a FAX machine.

I’m sure there are some very fine people in the FDA, and when abstracted from the bureaucratic tangle that now engulfs what they do in relation to pharma, there are some noble goals about protecting patient health, etc., etc. But when the only deliverable is a process of considering a process to arrive at a decision-making process about reviewing possible preliminary guidance that may or may not be relevant by the time it sees the light of day, well, I’m sorry, but that has nothing to do with human health. It does, however, have everything to do with opportunity cost – the years and man-hours wasted only hold back the ability of industry and patients to get at useful ways to communicate. That’s what makes me so frustrated. The very folks charged with making sure that the right folks get the right message about the right medicines are prescribing beta-blockers when we need eyeglasses.

More research is not a result. It’s an excuse.

Now, let me temper my rant with this fact: short-sighted dolts in the pharma industry who continue to violate pretty straightforward practices about on-label and accurate marketing are bringing all this on themselves. When will we get more courageous leadership in the pharma industry that sees beyond next quarter’s numbers; that values ethics and integrity above maximized profit? When will we see the Golden Rule instead of the Gold-in Rule? I’m all for fair competition, sales, and profit – this is a business marketplace. And a good number of the folks within pharma are seeking to do things right (I know and work with many of them). But the regulatory tangle we are subjected to today is, at least in part, because of jerks who incentivize jerks to cheat the system.

People inside pharma companies cannot speak this bluntly in a public setting, but I’m an outside voice. I have a mind and a conscience and (hopefully) a few remaining shreds of common sense, and it’s time to just tell it like it is. This industry is in serious need of culture change. And so, evidently, is its watchdog. But maybe that’s a premature conclusion. It needs further study. I’d better hold a public hearing and bring in some experts for more advice…and please, just FAX in your comments.

I’ll post them on my Zamboni for public comment.


UPDATE: forgot about this year-end spoof I did – now it looks downright prophetic!

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Last week, I saw a Twitter comment to which I couldn’t help responding. Essentially, it was a blanket statement about the difficulty of adopting social media in pharma.

My response:

Beside the fact that I used the word “actually” twice (I hate messing up grammar and making typos!), this exchange underscored something I know I have been guilty of – over-generalizing about pharma and social media. Since Twitter only allows 140 characters per message, I followed up with this:

The fact is, we often think about pharma only in terms of the restrictions and challenges of prescription brand marketing. There are many, many other areas of networked communications which pharmaceutical companies can and should use apart from any guidance from the FDA about brand communications. Please read Jon Richman‘s very helpful post about this issue.

Think of it this way: Networking approaches can be transformative and effective in multiple areas that have little or nothing to do with branded messaging. Those non- or less-regulated areas are the low-hanging fruit. Spinning our wheels always obsessing about the fruit at the top of the tree causes us to lose sight of the many ways we can use social media now.

The slide below is a bit dated – I think it’s a couple years old now – but it’s a tool to help brainstorm the many areas in which we can productively start using social networking technologies in pharma now (click to biggify).

Pharma and social media: it’s not all about the brand and the prescriptions, people. There’s a lot of other low-hanging fruit out there with opportunities to inform, collaborate, communicate, and learn.


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