Digital Insights: Why Isn’t Pharma Friending the Web?

Our industry seems reluctant to join the 2.0 party. But why?

By Michele Vaccarello Wagner, Senior Digital Editor

It seems everyone is riding the Web 2.0 wave of social media dependency both personally and professionally. Almost a quarter of the world population is actively using social networking sites on a daily basis (Pew Research Study: Social Media 2008).

Whether it is setting up your profile on Facebook or MySpace, posting your resume and interacting with colleagues on LinkedIn, detailing new experiments on Twitter, rating news articles on Digg or simply posting a comment to a blog or website, the opportunities for instant contact and extensive networking seem endless.

Many corporations are exploiting social networking functionalities as well to improve their business operations. An increasing number are looking to social media in their own web offerings in order to further promote branding, gain customer feedback and/or share technologies and best practices with global colleagues.

One industry that seems to be lagging within the trades is Pharma. Allowing the public to interact directly with drug companies about products and practices is an issue that has been met with much controversy. Managing these social sites, and monitoring public posts for wildly speculative opinions or anecdotal drug safety claims, takes time and money.

While legal and marketing teams believe that creating customer interaction capabilities on sites such as bulletin boards, chat rooms, blogs and social networking
profiles will provide a breeding ground for comment on injury and side effects of drug
experiences gone badly, such activity could be productive—for example, it may serve
as an early warning and detection system for adverse drug effects.

One company that is trying to break through the Web 1.0 ceiling is Johnson & Johnson, which is hosting a community site for families who have children with type 1 diabetes, www.ChildrenwithDiabetes.com. This site not only fosters a forum for families dealing with the disease but also provides a medium of communication between the company and patients. J&J also manages to turn a profit from industry advertisers and sponsors on the site.

“Drug companies need to begin embracing ways to look for adverse events instead of hoping they don’t stumble across them,” Peter Pitts, SVP at communications firm
Manning, Selvage & Lee, has said. “The attitude of ‘there’s safety in ignorance,’ or active ignorance, is no longer actionable or responsible.”

As an industry, we need to evolve and embrace new ways of improving products. The web is one tool--why not use it?

Note: Next month, I’ll look at which social media sites can truly help your career, and how to best use them.

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