On the inside – Implementing Pharma Social Media projects from within

Ok, I have to admit to recently feeling more than a little frustrated, after certain blog posts and Twitter streams have washed my way.  The reason?  Various  protagonists – mainly agency friends, have been quite critical about Pharma’s ‘limited advances’ into the world of social media.

I was tempted to title this post  “Why my agency friends leave me feeling sick on Twitter”  however:-    

(A) This is my first blog post and while a bit of controversy may be ok I am not after full scale alienation.

(B) more importantly upon reflection this would not actually be fair.

I understand and appreciate that it is often easy and natural to criticise from the outside.

For example who has not ranted at the game show contestant who can’t answer the simple question , or the golfer (with or without personal problems) who can’t drop the simple 3 foot putt.  I could go on, but basically anyone, who does not deliver under the spotlight, what we see as simple, is opening themselves up to a potential barrage of criticism from the sidelines.

However, as a pharma marketer who has had the opportunity to pioneer various digital and social media projects, I want to put the record straight, about what it takes to deliver some of this stuff internally. 

Here are my 5 personal  ‘Must Do’s’  around social media projects

(1) Alignment with brand objectives – This may seem like stating the obvious but it’s important for at least 3 reasons.

  • If activities are not aligned, then no matter how well implemented or how ‘cool’ and ‘cutting edge’ they appear, they will deliver zero for the business.
  • With alignment it is possible to form a logical ‘selling story’ to senior management to gain buy in.
  • Also you have an equally logical reason to push back, if you are feeling under pressure to jump on a social & digital media ‘bandwagon’, if it does not fit for your brand.

(2) Measurement

  • Ok, maybe obvious, but really think what you are measuring,  I won’t bang on but the key for me is not getting excited about numbers of views / hits etc – but are you targeting the right audience and driving the desired behaviours.

(3) Passion for innovation and novel solutions and willing to take calculated risks

Ok its easy to say you have either got passion to drive change and embark on new projects or not.   Actually I’d like to make a distinction

  • Pioneering projects – If you are working on an innovative project as I did with the YouTube video then yes, to deliver a successful project there are no substitutes for passion and belief.  I gained business agreement for the initial YouTube commenting policy and then in the implementation stage argued why we should post many of the comments.  You can debate whether a more robust policy would mean less debate later about which comments to post….I’m not going there now…  The point is whether it’s at the policy or implementation level, you need passion to drive that agreement.  It’s great to see this being recognised.
  • Less-pioneering projects – That’s a nasty way of describing it I know.  What I mean is,  lets say your brand objectives point to an integrated Facebook campaign.  If your company has experience in implementing successful Facebook campaign(s), then your focus needs to be on aligning that process to fit with your campaign and brand objectives.  The level of passion required to embark on a new approach is lower, as the main pitfalls should have been cleared from your path!
  • Re Risk taking, actually if you have planned your project well (aligned to brand objectives) and set up relevant and robust metrics, your personal risks should be low.  If it does not go to plan you should get some valuable learning’s ,which can be proudly shared.

 (4) Management of internal stakeholders

  • Processes and how regulations are interpreted are important but people are key.  Some people may support  your plan, others may need more help to understand the value of your proposition.
  • Always outline and sell proposals ‘one on one’ to key business stakeholders, prior to a ‘sign off’ meeting.  Never assume they will have your passion or immediate understanding of the value – be prepared to walk them through the detail!
  • Mobilise your supporters to influence your non-supporters, either 1:1 or in meetings.

(5) Think long-term

  • I’m reminded of the famous UK slogan ‘A dog is for life,  not just for Christmas’, coined in response to the vast number of unwanted dogs abandoned in the months following Christmas.  I’m not saying that social media is for life or could involve animal neglect, however the decision needs to be taken with the long-term in mind.  You need an exit strategy.  Imagine launching an initiative that patients find truly valuable and then taking that away, perhaps when the company stops being active in that therapy area.

The road to change in pharma is often long and rarely easy.  It is invariably littered with frustrations – but it can ultimately be an exciting and rewarding  journey.

12 thoughts on “On the inside – Implementing Pharma Social Media projects from within

  1. Gary – Great first post and I couldn’t agree more (and that’s from the agency side).
    Re. Aligning to audience and measurement. I find it incredibly frustrating when pure digital/social media colleagues advocate this approach because it can ‘potentially reach thousands’, without really focusing on the target audience. The truth is that for some pharma/health brands, the target audience is likely to get confused putting their pin in at the supermarket checkout, and is highly unlikely to know how to access your creative programme on the internet.
    We could line up a sell to internal stakeholders that the whizzy, exciting, online programme will be educating the target audiences families or the healthcare professional but we need to be truthful: that realistically it won’t be reaching the target audience directly.
    However, there is still a large potential pool of patients who need information and advice who are accessing social media. Just be careful to focus on with what you’re trying to acheive.


    1. Thanks Anna – yes, for me its about starting with the strategy, behavioural objectives etc and then delivering via the best channels for your audience – with full integration of course! You make a good point, e.g. we have some very popular patient printed materials that patients fine really valuable – not an exciting blogging subject though 🙂 I think there is more that can be done to measure the impact/value of all these channels…..


  2. Hi Gary,

    This is a great post, it shines more light on how pharma companies regard social media. In general, as you said, we hear a lot of voices from outside pharma companies, but fewer from between.

    Do you think your post is representative for your company, J&J, at a corporate level? How does senior management look at social media?



    1. Thanks Horatiu, glad you liked the post and perspective, I’m sure you understand I can only give my own view and not that of my employer. As a general answer, Senior management buy-in is key for any such project. In my experience most companies will have varied approaches, depending on the management attitudes, local processes, regulations and priorities of each operating country/division.


  3. Hi Gary,
    Congratulations with your new blog! Great and very inspiring post – I already look to your experiences so I am looking forward to follow you on this blog.

    Can I ask for the no 2, Measurement. You say that view/hits are not key and I agree. But on a short term they are at least more easy to measure some activity from, then if the desired behaviour has changed. Have you so far been able to measure if you are targeting the right audience and driving the desired behaviours from your YouTube project? If yes, how? And did you use other activities for alignment of this project? (Please specify if yes.)

    Also I like your no 4 – I agree that this is also very important and great tips!
    Thanks and Br,


  4. This is great Gary – for my money there have only been a couple of presentations at this years DigiPharm congress that have been engaging and interesting. This will be a great piece to share with my team back in the office. I think people want to see more and more examples of what pharma are doing and how they did it. Hopefully in 2011 there will be more examples to share!
    thx again you and Alex have made it worth attending this event – you both should be very proud of what you have achieved!


    1. Hi Sophs
      Many thanks for your comment 🙂 – I feel a little bad its taken so long to post it 🙂 I’m very happy that you got a lot out of the presentation and I am sure Alex will be too! With the presentation I wanted to be as specific as possible, as I have in the past sat through industry presentations – with some interesting theory but just quite general without real world examples…. so I am glad in your opinion that it hit the mark! All the best, Gary


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