Collecting ideas and thoughts slightly too big for @digital_pharma

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It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when the idea that disease came from unseen microscopic organism that moved from person to person (or from water well to person) was something akin to “magic.” Disease was a function of luck, karma, the god’s displeasure, or some secret failing of one’s own soul.

You know what changed all that? Science.

So, if I told you that there was a tool whose regular use lowered (and even eliminated) a patient’s symptoms, and I could back it up with a set of clinical studies, you’d have to assume that I had a viable product on my hands, right? That’s the rule that pharma follows for the pills, topical treatments and injectables right? 

But last week, Pharma Guy decided to stomp all over the idea of gamification like it was irritating pest. A game that helps kids with ADHD train their brain to not need Ritalin? Laughable!

Now, I’m not picking a fight with John Mack (oh, wait. Yes I am), but he seemed to take actual joy in pointing at it and calling it names.

I’m not calling for pie-in-the-sky (mmm… pie) thinking that leads to rose-colored glasses (so hot this year), but in science. If I can prove that a divining rod is far more likely to predict water than a placebo, it may seem like mysticism, but science proves that there’s something there (not that I have any proof that divining rods are any more than drought-based snake oil). And it’s the same with all sorts of things that aren’t pills and topical treatments and injectables and whatnot. I can’t see how penicillin works, but science proves it does, so that’s that.

Why can’t we apply the same rational thinking to games?

It seems like Mr. Mack is focusing on the politics of funding, testing and reviewing a game like a drug, and I agree that it’s a long road to follow, but pharma follows the path where science leads. What if playing a game every day really lower or eliminate the need for taking Ritalin?

Let’s not forget that games probably won’t have a lot of side-effects like nausea, heart palpitations and addictions (like Ritalin does). And what kind of adverse events would a game cause? Yeah, that doesn’t seem like a path worth following, does it?

The best part is that pharma can and should be making money marketing these new kinds of treatments. If pharma doesn’t get on ball and start playing with these ideas, the tech world is going to beat us to it and shut us out of the market completely. We’ll be busy playing an outdated game while tech moves the playing field out from under our feet.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t apply a critical eye to games like we do any other brand, but declaring them dead before they’ve had a chance to prove themselves like any other brand is short-sighted and closed-minded.

Or maybe Pharma Guy thinks washing one’s hands before an operation is lunacy.

Just wondering.

Facebook is serious about getting pharma on board with social media.

You remember Facebook, right? The number one or two website in the US and the world? The place where people spend insane amounts of time playing games, posting photos, and chatting with their friends? I know you know of it, because I’m almost certain that you have a personal profile on it. 

You may have wiped it from your professional memory because for the last few years, Facebook spent a lot more telling us that it wanted our business than actually learning what it was like doing business within pharma. They were playing B2B footsie, occasionally bending their very retail-oriented rules about commenting and interaction when a brand reallyreallyreally needed them to turn off comments (read: spent a lot of money buying ads on Facebook). 

But you were probably right for writing the FB off as a place where pharma should fear to tread.

So it was surprising to see that Facebook has taken itself to the woodshed and returned a changed company. They really are serious about bring pharma into the fold, going so far as to put together a team of six full-time staffers dedicated to pharma. This team will teach any brand manager or agency willing to listen the lessons learned from the early adopters. They have regular newsletters describing new ways of targeting customers, building brand awareness and driving engagement. They will sit you down and walk you through a deck describing all the ways they can help you achieve your brand goals.

You might be interested in hearing that FB can reach hundreds of thousands of pharmacists, nurses and doctors (and based on numbers I’ve seen, assume 60-80% penetration). They can segment pretty well by specialty type, demographic-type, and geography.

They can also help you build a page that abides by your particular MLR needs. No longer is Facebook pretending all companies are the same: they are serious about getting pharma into social.

And that’s great news. Except one small detail.

While I’m all for getting pharma to embrace the twenty-first century and admit what we all already know (everyone, including your doctor, your mother, your pharmacist, your nurse, your support group, your physical therapist, your KOL, and your pharma executive are all on social media and using it quite a bit), Facebook may have a bit of problem: clicks on their ads aren’t all by people.

Someone has uncovered evidence that as much as 80% of ad clicks that businesses pay for on Facebook are by “bots.” Now, in this world of indexing spiders and other crawling bots, we expect a few clicks on any ad to be worthless because they aren’t being made by a person (good luck persuading a piece of software to ask their doctor about Humira). And it’s safe to say that this traffic is about 1% of traffic we end up paying for. But 80% is outrageous.

It would be easy to say that this is how Facebook is artificially inflating click numbers to charge you more (and if last month’s earnings report is any indicator, everyone in FB is aware of the value of charging clients money: Zuckerberg lost more than $420 million yesterday!), but there’s no real proof. It’s just as likely that bot-writers focus on their software on Facebook because that’s where people are. However, it’s not obvious what their motivation would be to fake-click on links.

As this story grows (and it will, as the “GM says FB ads aren’t effective” story is still fresh in our minds), Facebook will have it’s hands full managing the PR. They will need to prove 1) that it is not doing the fake-clicking and 2) that it is working towards eliminating the problem. Otherwise, all their hard work in building a targeting system we want to leverage will be almost worthless.

Provided it can fix both parts of the fake-click issue, Facebook will be well-positioned to become an effective pharma marketing partner. 

It wasn’t that long ago that my mother got all of her email on paper. Once a week, she would check her email, by which she meant she would have my dad log in, delete the junk mail and print out anything that was relevant, interesting, or useful. Then, she would call people back. She was proud to tell people that she was up on new technology like email and would give out her address to anyone who seemed interested.

Since most people didn’t get a response for almost a week via a completely different medium, eventually everyone learned to just call.

This begs the question: was my mother really on email? (is “on” the right preposition? Whatever.) She had an email address, and she got information through it, but wouldn’t you say that she was just bending the medium against its inherent… “emailness?” You might cover yourself in feathers, but that doesn’t make you a bird, does it?

I have a similar (mostly internal) conversation about pharma and social media. We all know that social media is mainstream. Does anyone reading this not have their own personal Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn accounts? I didn’t think so. We’re social, and the numbers tell us that pretty much everyone else is, too. When you post to Facebook, have you ever thought about turning off comments? No, of course not. You might think about blocking your brother-in-law because he’s obnoxious and won’t stop posting political rants, but you would love it if everyone you knew commented on that photo of yourself, especially if they comment how good you look.

In return for comments, you’re more likely to comment on other people’s posts, maybe even share videos of babies giggling or helicopters made of stuffed animals. The funny thing is that you might have done stuff like that even before Facebook. You might have had a blog of great links, a LiveJournal, or maybe you just passed emails around with your friends and family. You were “social” online long before you were on Facebook.

We can’t mistake the platform from the intention. Facebook the “social” platform merely facilitates your intention, which means that simply being on Facebook doesn’t mean you are being social – you’re just leveraging a social platform. Being on a social platform doesn’t mean you’re social. To return t the bird analogy, it just means you’re covered in feathers.

So many pharma brands are patting themselves on the back by claiming to be social, when they are really just on Facebook, furiously fighting to turn off all the functions and features that make Facebook social. To pharma, Facebook is just a blogging platform with a lot of unnecessary (and risky) opportunities for people to talk back. However, it is the conversational features that make Facebook social, and what made it popular in the first place.

No one wants to get messages from Pepsi and Doritos and the new Batman movie. What they really want is to be social, either with other fans, or to the brand itself. For example, if you “friend” the TV show Archer (it’s a cartoon for adults) on Facebook, you will get posts from the character Archer himself. You can reply. You can be social.

Now, I appreciate that there are rules and guidelines and all sorts of medical, legal and regulatory concerns that keep you from making your brand more social. Maybe that means you shouldn’t be spending all this time and money trying to pretend to be social. The same resources, if dedicated to smart emailing and texting (tech that’s more than 30 years old, now) would reap far more benefits without having to pretend that your Facebook page’s seventy friends (almost all of whom work for the brand in some form or another) are worth the money it takes to post.

It’s very possible that pharma brands’ trying to be social is as valuable as attempting to email people without a computer. Sure, you could create email accounts for all of them, allowing you to claim some great innovation, but since your targets can’t actually access them, what’ the point?

I’m not anti-social. I love social media (my twitter accounts attest to that). But we need to use it right, or else use it not at all. Pretending to be social in the pharma sector is just a great way to spend money.

And get covered in feathers.

If you haven’t heard of Pinterest yet, you are probably purposely avoiding it. It has become the fastest-growing social media site in the US (#3 behind Facebook and Twitter, ahead of #4 LinkedIn) and it has a fairly rabid fanbase. But what is Pinterest? How is it different from the other social networking sites we’ve grown comfortable with lately?

To understand Pinterest, you need to think about the internet not as a bunch of ones and zeros (bytes), but as a collection of things (photos, articles, posts, videos, graphics, infographics, PDFs, etc).

Typically, you might spend a lot of time crafting an article that includes a bunch of text, a few images, an infographic, and maybe some links. You think of the article as the unit of transfer – the product produced and distributed. This is a holdover from the previous generation of media (magazines and journals).

But what if the pieces were as valuable as the entire article? For example, let’s say you have a set of instructions on how to make something interesting. A headboard, for example. You will write the instructions out and annotate it with a series of instructive photos describing each step. To you, the information, as defined by this collection of text and images, is the thing. Except, the final image is really pretty. It allows people to see the outcome and mentally project it on to their lives (or, in this case, in their bedroom). To them, the final picture is the thing, with a bunch of semi-interesting text and explanatory images along for the ride. The picture of the dessert is far more important that the recipe. The picture of the dress is more important that who makes it (but not who sells it, as many retail brands are finding that Pinterest is a more effective channel for sales that Twitter or Facebook). 

Think about it. The information needed to create something isn’t as important as the marketing tool wrapped around it. That is the thing that Pinterest trades on. So people see the image and pin it to their board (it’s like “Liking” something on Facebook, but allowing the user and their fans to see all the related likes in one place). Beyond that, other users (via searching or via networking) see the image and may choose to like the image as well.

This is Pinterest: A very visual array of ideas grouped by a user to collect inspirations on given topics. 

If you’re confused by my examples (headboards, desserts, dresses), then you don’t know the audience for Pinterest (whether it was the intended audience or not). Depending on the source of information, Pinterest’s users are 68-97% female. What is successful on Pinterest is very pretty, very cute, very clever, or very funny. The marketing piece (the final product, the lavishly-designed graphic, the snarky line) trumps the supporting content. If you want your material pinned, you had better have a gorgeous photo or killer infographic.

So what does all this mean to pharma? Based on the meager existing pharma usage of Pinterest, it’s very hard to say. Like all social media, the tool is designed to facilitate conversations between people, a conversation that might sound like “I like this thing, and you might, too.” Despite the value that pharma brings to people’s lives, there isn’t much activity on the boards. For example, a search for the enormously popular Viagra leads to seeing three pins: one bottle image, one ad, and one picture of red pills forming a heart. A search for Paxil shows roughly 20 pins, where Paxil is as likely to be used as code for “chill out” as in a professional frame. And searching for Nexium shows far more pins for “natural alternatives” and online pharmacies than anything the industry might consider useful or productive.

From the other side of the fence, Bayer US’s Pinterest page (53 pins currently) is filled with advertisements for its business, sustainability, innovation and education initiatives. The only brand shown is for pet med Advantix.

We can see that Pinterest may not be an obvious channel for pharma. It is open (people can comment freely and re-purpose a pharma pin onto a board of any name they choose), it is conversational, and it is very visual. These are traits that do not lend themselves to pharma.

That said, there is a massive community here (mostly younger and female). If we look at the example of NuvaRing (female contraceptive), there aren’t many pins, but almost all of them are serious or informational in tone. Clearly, the audience here understands the value of this product to both themselves and their peers. The question is: will Pinterest become the way women talk to each other about this brand? That remains to be seen.

Even if you’ve heard the news from Facebook, you might not have seen the implications from a medical/pharma standpoint. Facebook announced a new tool called Facebook Timeline. Scrape away all the marketing copy and you get this: All that stuff you enter into Facebook (and Tumblr and Twitter and Foursquare and Flickr et al) aren’t just quips and stories and complaints and jokes and whatnot, they are the ephemeral data about your life.

If your doctor said, “I’d like you to keep track of how many cups of coffee you have, how well you sleep, when you go to the gym, and the like” you’d hear, “Do a bunch of tedious homework.” If your doctor said instead, “Hey, since you already track when you go to Starbucks and the gym on Foursquare, and complain about your lack of sleep on Facebook, can you keep doing that?” that sounds easy.

And now you can. Or rather, you already have.

Facebook, users already engage in countless acts of data entry, so it’s possible that the data [life-tracking pioneer] Felton will be visualizing will already be available. Automated data gathering through smart phones—especially location data—provides even more data to mine.
-Christopher Mims at MIT’s Technology Review

And that’s where things are about to get interesting. We’ve been sitting on the precipice of some seriously cool ideas and tools for collecting, measuring and analyzing data, but they’ve all suffered from one of two problems: Lack of broad support or lack of fun. Facebook solved both those problems.

99% of the people who are interested in, and who would benefit from, collecting and analyzing their own data are stymied by the idea that it’s a lot of work. At the end of the day, do you really want to rely on your memory? Or do you want to interrupt your life a dozen times a day and look like a dork doing it? Oh, you’re updating one of your social media services? You’re no less of a dork, but we all understand now.

And while Facebook is pitching Timeline as a way of easily keeping track of the birthday/breakup/roadtrip/concert parts of your life, people are already thinking about how to leverage all this info for medical and wellness tracking purposes.

Granted, this is Facebook we’re talking about. These are not people who have a stellar track record when it comes to privacy. Or trustworthiness. Or professionalism. And while the intent behind all this work is clearly to be able to market products and services to us in a way that may actually be something close to interesting and useful, the opportunity exists for the data to be used in more meaningful ways… assuming Facebook can be persuaded to open the door to others, something it doesn’t like to do.

So who’s going to be the first to build a Facebook App to start to collect and use people’s wellness data?

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This post appeared as a guest-blog piece over at ePharmaSummitBlog. I’ll be there once a week and save a copy of the posts here.

RichardM over at World of DTC Marketing posted STOP! Social media is not the answer as argument as to why pharma should stay out of the social game. The argument can be summed up thusly: Pharma can’t be open, social demands openness, ergo pharma won’t work in social.

There is a little more to it than that, and I agree with the characterization of social as open and all about the conversation, but I think the article looks very narrowly at social media and how pharma can play in it. 

The article doesn’t have the wrong answer, it has the wrong question.

Does pharma want to be Oreos in social media (right now Oreas is the most powerful brand on Facebook, hitting a record number of likes before Lil Wayne took the title (ask your kids))? Can they afford to be the class cut-up in a world of snark and LOLs? Can they hire a hot guy to pretend to be a genie and make all your man’s aroma issues a thing of the past? Can pharma make a series of videos in which they see if things will blend? No? Huh. So maybe they can’t play in that part of social media.

But that’s not all of social media.

You know what people want when it comes to pharma? Good info and solid advice. They don’t want fun and laughs and chortles and “I have to send this to all my friends”-ness. This is their health, so there will be little joking (at least, not until you’ve formed a relationship with the audience). And since pharma can’t go off-label, they have to look elsewhere. I will suggest that “elsewhere” doesn’t have to be away from social media, but out of the branded area. 

The question then becomes “Where can pharma play in social media.” It’s a question we (as an industry) don’t seem all that interested in solving just yet.

Comment? Yeah, I’ll respond. Let’s increase our Klout scores by having a discussion about this on twitter for all to see!

Gartner’s 2011 Hype Cycle. Where’s your favorite new technology? In the Plateau of Productivity? Stuck in the Trough of Disillusionment? Or soaring the Peak of Inflated Expectations?

If you haven’t read Pixels and Pill’s post on the Challenges of Getting People Involved on Your Website, you should go get acclimated (and really, why aren’t you reading them?). Their four major challenges are: Failure to understand the audience, stale content, being boring and overly-complicated navigation.

Those are all valid arguments, but I think they are unnecessary. In the end, there is only one hard and fast rule about how to make a great website and here it is: Give people something useful. Everything else is decoration.

Here’s an example: Amazon.com. Until last week’s redesign (which is pretty nice), I loved to refer to it as the ugliest web site everyone uses. There was too much stuff, it was everywhere, the navigation was a mess, etc. And yet, a good percentage of all internet traffic went through its doors (and more importantly, a good percentage of all online sales were on Amazon). They broke so many design and user experience rules, it was almost funny. And yet, because they gave people something useful, they thrived.

Depending on who you talk to, they thrived for differing reasons, like the blind men and the elephant. Amazon is so big and complicated, they thrived because they sold everything, or because they offered professional and user reviews, because they could lower shipping costs, because their logistics gave them a price edge, because everyone knew they could be trusted, because they held users’ credit card numbers on file for easy purchasing, etc. No one reason is THE reason, but together, they helped Amazon work.

But the underlying message is that Amazon worked really because it offered its users something they wanted and needed. Users want products, selection, speed, security, convenience, more information, all that. Because they gave people what they wanted, they could afford to break most of the other (lesser) rules.

And here’s where things get tricky. Pharma isn’t in a position to give people what they want. Well, pharma is, but pharma marketing sure isn’t.

What do consumers and HCPs want from pharma? On-label content? No, they can get that anywhere. Marketing materials? No, no one wants your marketing materials. Your reps have a hard time delivering them to people and they’re willing to make an appointment and wait in the waiting room with a gift.

Um… that’s pretty much all you can give them in a branded way, right? No matter how good your navigation is, and how “exciting” your marketing is, its not content your audience really wants. I mean, they don’t hate it, but would they cross the street to get it? Look at Amazon’s example: their site was so ugly and a pain to navigation but it didn’t matter because it gave their users something useful. They almost had to work at getting it.

So where does that leave pharma?

Comment! Tell me you love/hate the new design! Tweet me! Complain and argue!