Much has been written about the reluctance of the pharmaceutical industry to become very involved in new media, both here and elsewhere. But as communications in the Internet expands and unfolds, there are newer tools available and the way in which people are communicating and getting their news is changing rapidly and will continue to evolve. Those who don’t evolve with it are quite likely to find themselves disadvantaged in reaching key audiences and particularly so during a time of crisis, of which there are bound to be many in the coming months.
One can still see the reluctance of some companies merely by visiting their media page on their Web site. Most pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies finally have an RSS Feed available so that one can subscribe to their news releases and get them aggregated. One would think that investors, in particular, would want feeds for all of the companies in which they invest or in which they are considering investment. Yet, it is still surprising to see how many companies have yet to issue press releases by feed, but rather rely on email updates – or provide no ability to subscribe to their press releases at all.
When Eye on FDA began, about 80% of the subscribers were email subscribers and 20% were by feeds. Now less than half of the subscribership by email, while over half are by feeds by people who use an aggregator to collect the news they want to follow. Examples of aggregators are Google Reader and Pageflakes, that are nearly effortless to set up and free of charge.
There is a growing migration in communications to personally-based communications. Blogging, and the growth and attraction of it, are emblematic of that fact. And while blogging has evolved from the personal on-line diary, to a time when every credible newspaper and journalist has a blog, there have been many more changes to personalized communication. For example, recently, BusinessWeek carried an excellent cover story "Beyond Blogs – What Business Needs to Know".
One of the many offshoots is Twitter. Twitter is a mini-blog entry of 140 characters or less. When you open up a Twitter account (again, free), people can choose to follow your entries. When they follow, they may repeat something you wrote to those that follow them… and so on. It is a very fast way for news to spread.
You will see that I recently began twittering. On my screen in the morning, I have an iGoogle page set up which includes my Google Reader on it where I collect feeds from many industry sources. As something interesting catches my eye, I offer it on Twitter with a link to the story. That means that companies that don’t offer feeds, can’t be included in my updates. But more to the point, and more importantly, of the increasing number of people who get their news the way I do, companies that don’t offer a feed are falling off the radar screen. They will still have their important stories picked up and discussed, but their story is going to move more slowly.
Understanding Web 2.0 is important for many more important reasons, too numerous for this venue. For example, just as there are Mommy-bloggers, there are now Mommies who twitter. During a product or consumer crisis, twitter may be the first line of communications regarding the situation. There are tools to monitor terms on twitter and see how people are reacting very early in a product crisis. Are you monitoring twitter?
Finally, my point, if you haven’t guessed, is that the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries may be wary of new media for a number of reasons. But there needs to be strategic consideration given to how to address a quickly evolving communications environment. Or else, as we used to say in New York – if you aren’t first, you’re last.