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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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Impactiviti has launched a new venture, and we’d like to ask for your help to make it a success! Introducing the Impactiviti Talent Network – on-line job search joined to social networking. This can help you as a job seeker, AND as a company posting openings!

TODAY’S NEWS:

Head of Pfizer R&D pulls up stakes, goes to AstraZeneca.

Pfizer‘s Inspra meets primary study goals early – Pfizer reported Thursday that it plans to stop enrolling patients ahead of schedule in a late-stage trial of Inspra (eplerenone) after those taking the drug experienced a significant reduction in risk of cardiovascular death or heart failure hospitalisation compared with those receiving placebo...more

Sanofi‘s prostate cancer drug: 28% survival improvement in study – Sanofi-Aventis’ cabazitaxel candidate prostate cancer drug combined with prednisone reduced the risk of death by 28 percent compared with another treatment, the outcome of a final-stage trial showed. The French drugmaker said on Thursday that the combination of the treatments led to an improved median overall survival of 15.1 months against 12.7 months in patients who took a chemotherapy of mitoxantrone with prednisone/prednisolonemore

Intermune to lay off 40% of workforce – InterMune Inc. said it will fire about 60 employees, or 40 percent of its workforce, to reduce costs after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected the company’s lung drug earlier this month...more

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Facebook page development/monitoring. If your marketing group is thinking about Facebook as a platform, we have the development and management partners you need for social media.  Contact us (stevew at impactiviti dot com, or phone at 973-947-7429) for recommendations.

PLUS

I don’t usually wander into political waters on this blog. But I found this article to be so compelling and cogent, I had to share. America’s New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Government Control. Worth the read!

JUST FOR FUN

Splash of yellow. From my backyard. And, daisies in the evening.

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I was recently asked, by a pharmaceutical client, what was “new” and leading-edge in training.

trends1I haven’t seen a lot of specific programs or approaches that struck me as the latest-and-greatest must-haves, but there are certain social and technology trends that will profoundly impact training in the years to come. Here are a handful that I think are important:

1. Who – specifically, from whom will we get our knowledge, coaching, and support? I believe that the formal, centralized model of training will increasingly be displaced by social, peer-to-peer networking and resourcing on the job. New platforms are now emerging, combining elements of learning management, knowledge management, content management, and social networking, including such features as wikis, blogs, and micro-sharing (peer-to-peer messaging). People are now getting used to learning from one another via networking, and this will (should!) shape training approaches in the years to come.

Example: Pfizer’s Pfizerpedia project. Pfizer researchers creating a living wiki that is peer-to-peer driven. See Karl Kapp’s overview (with more helpful links); a .pdf case study; article from Information Week.

2. When – these days, with the one-click-away Google, presence apps like Twitter, and cell-phone connectivity, it’s all about the NOW. We’re getting used to finding what we need when we need it, and training will need to migrate increasingly to a Continuous Training Development / Continuous Learning Access / Constant Update / Immediate Equipping model. While there will always be some training content on the long development cycle slow train, we’re now entering a technology era where fingertip performance support is potentially ubiquitous.

Example: On-line coaching tools. For software apps and other needs, context-sensitive help & coaching, now including audio/video/screencasts, is being rolled out. This is far superior to sitting in a classroom for 5 days with fire-hose training, and a hope and a prayer that students will retain the material.

3. Where and How – With smart phones, notebook computers, Kindles, and who-knows-what-will-be-launched-next-month, information and communication are finally untethered. We can take pictures, chat, videoconference, blog, search, and listen anywhere and everywhere. Training will gladly hop aboard this fast-moving express. Multi-channel communications (podcasts, e-mail simulations, webcasts, videos) are being woven into daily life, and will increasingly shape training, as will the use of gaming environments and virtual worlds.

Example: One of my pharma clients recently rolled out laptops that included integrated webcams. This capability soon led to a new layer of productivity – pre-event training practice on selling skills that could be conducted “live” and at a distance, making the on-site training more efficient.

4. What – The era of personalized information experience is here, and is increasingly moving into training platforms. Anyone can set up an iGoogle or My Yahoo page and add information and application boxes, or customize widgets on Facebook pages, or set up RSS feeds around their own interests. As these technologies are embraced in training, whole new layers of efficient and customized training delivery become possible.

Example: Some Learning Management Systems are rolling out portal-like front-ends, which allow people to see customized training, resources, and information according to login. This trend will accelerate as personalized information delivery becomes the norm across all web technologies.

And now, one final trend that SHOULD be embraced – Strategic Design and development of training with a focus on operational efficiency. But that’s a whole separate topic…

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A high-end narrated 3-D animation of the “inner life of a cell.” Very cool.

Where can you find some good (low-cost or no-cost) images? Here’s a helpful list.

If you use Facebook at all, you’ll get a kick out of this spoof glimpse into Facebook 30 years in the future.

And finally, an inspirational year-end treat. Patrick Hughes – born without eyes, crippled from birth, gifted musician – and a member of the University of Louisville marching band. Amazing.

(And, here’s another wonderful story featured on the Impactiviti blog last December)

Plus…

fruitcake.jpg

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