EPharma West Keynote: Social Media Insight from Peter Pitts

Aug. 1, 2011 — Listed below are excerpts from the keynote speech on Social Media, presented at EPharma West by Peter Pitts (reprinted with permission):

Social media for regulated industry is a wonderful green field of opportunity. But to maximize the opportunity, we must accommodate the reality of a messier world.  Social media, almost by definition, is messy – and the regulatory framework (or lack thereof) is equally so. And it’s not likely to get much better. Get used to it.

Embracing social media means embracing regulatory ambiguity. And that’s a paradigm shift for an industry that has (in a post-Vioxx world) been going in precisely the opposite direction.

Social media (and its game-changing  opportunities) demands a move away from the cautious tactics of the Vioxx Populi towards a better understanding of the digital Vox Populi. And that means more than sponsored Google links and branded Facebook pages with the interactivity turned off.

It means mixing it up with real people in real time. And when it comes to FaceBook, it means – turn the interactivity on! 

It’s not going to be easy, or risk-free, or inexpensive.  And whatever social media “marketing models” companies build will have to be elastic – just like the media environment in which they are designed to operate.

Benjamin Franklin once said: “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” While Facebook strategies and approaches have to be reexamined, Mr. Zuckerberg’s medical mandate provides pharmaceutical marketers with an excellent opportunity to finally acknowledge and embrace the full capabilities of two-way social communication writ large.

Facebook’s changes represent an opportunity for regulated industry to learn, understand and embrace the three key tenets of Pharmaceutical Marketing 3.0:

1. The Rise of the “Face of Pharma”

For the past 20 years, the overwhelming majority of pharmaceutical marketing budgets were dedicated to promoting specific products.

Now, due to both a less robust drug development pipeline and an increase in the rates of patent expiry, the next era of pharma marketing will put the company – and its corporate reputation – front and center.

When you think about it (if you allow yourself to think about it), it’s a perfect match for social media where transparency is the most urgent, non-negotiable and magnificent mantra.

Not third-party groups, not KOLs (although these traditional avatars have their place) – but the company speaking on behalf of itself and its products. What a concept!

2. The Role of Social Media in the Era of Post-Patent Medicine

I believe that the blockbuster era of the pharmaceutical industry will be replaced by the Era of Post-Patent Medicine. To compete in an era of generics and biosimilars, Pharma companies will need not only a robust portfolio of lower cost medications, but an army of brand loyalists.

Communications programs, supported by social media must be one tool. Why? Because it’s where the people are.

3. Social Media Can Help Increase Patient Education and Prescription Compliance

You know the numbers. It’s estimated that Pharma loses $30 billion a year in patient non-compliance. True two-way social media has the potential to serve as a new and puissant health education platform by helping to keep patients informed of the dangers of non-compliance by earning their trust through transparent dialogue. And that’s twice as true when it’s mobile-based.

As another conference presenter, Dr. James Fowler, of the University of California at San Diego opined, “Pharma must realize their own network power.”


PS/ I am also pleased to announce that I have joined the board of the Digital Health Coalition – a nonprofit corporation – that seeks to promote responsible innovation via digital marketing and communications in a connected world. Their first initiative is focused on the rapidly evolving space of social media and seeks to promote a world where patients, physicians, and brands can connect, empower, and drive positive health outcomes. Individuals interested in learning more about the Digital Health Coalition are encouraged to visit: http://www.digitalhealthcoalition.orgwww.digitalhealthcoalition.org

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