Most pharma companies came to YouTube in 2008, though some, such as Novartis, were late-comers in 2009. But to put it mildly, ventures by pharmaceutical companies into YouTube have been, with some exceptions, largely abysmal. The efforts are, for the most part, unsustained, uninteresting and uncoordinated. And the numbers sort of tell that story. Overall, the number of subscribers for the channels is anemic, and companies have failed to socialize the channels and integrate them into a broader communications effort to engage patients.
Below is a list of the YouTube channels of which I am aware with one exception – the channel for Insmed, while still up, appeared completely abandoned and no one from that company had signed in for months. I therefore did not include it.
One can see that Johnson & Johnson's JNJHealth has maintained the largest video foot print, having attracted a whopping 1,343,434 viewings of its videos. They also have a lot of videos – some 240. The vids there span a whole range of topics and you'd have to be completely aloof not to find something of interest in this large compilation of video.
Other companies have done a great deal with a great deal less. Specifically, Sanofi-Aventis has been able to attract a large viewing of its videos where patients tell their stories about having diabetes and using insulin with its aptly named goinsulin channel. AstraZeneca, which has more than one channel, has done something similar, but with less success, with its branded channel on asthma called myasthmastory. Though one has to ask oneself in light of the recent FTC rulings on testimonials, whether patient story channels that mention specific medical product use are viable under the new rules.
Genentech on Genentechvideo is doing something interesting and letting employees talk about the corporate culture there as a means to introduce the company to prospective talent. Success for this channel, then, does not rely on the numbers, but whether in fact it is reaching its intended audience. How is the company steering prospective employees to the vids?
Non-U.S. firms have even ventured into YouTube. GSK's GSKVision, when if first appeared, seemed to be looking around for something to say. Now it seems to be focused on the company's philanthropy, which is not a bad idea, but which doesn't seem to be attracting much of a following. Perhaps it needs better marketing. And Sanofi Pasteur has posted some interesting videos on vaccination and has them available in various languages, which is a nice touch.
Lastly is the channel I found the most interesting, and which was the first, having been put up in 2007, which is Tibotec's channel. The company seems to do little to promote it or drive traffic to it, but the subject matter is very interesting. The videos all provide visuals on how the mechanism of action works in their products.
The balance of the companies on the list have channels that are just a hodge podge of videos. The channels, it appears, have not captured the interest of the companies sponsoring them and therefore have failed to capture the interest of viewing audiences either. For the most part, there has been a "if you build it, they will come" mentality about the YouTube channels that does not, in fact, work well.
Some of the companies, it should be mentioned, allow both commentary and ratings for their videos, as well as the ability to embed them by third parties. Many, however, do not. This is, after all, "social" media – it will be hard to build a channel without being social. Here are some tips for YouTube channel success:
- Socialize the channel – become friends with other channels, subscribe to other channels and let people embed your video. You are putting it up there because you want it to be seen.
- Promote the channel – put the link into signature lines on emails, put it up at product booths, stick the link in as many places as you would the Web site. Whenever you post a video, tweet it. You are responsible for driving the traffic.
- Engage the viewer – The success of goinsulin is easy. People submitted their stories and got to see them up and others got to meet patients virtually. Find out what patients want and give it to them. Don't just throw up any old video that you think is interesting. In fact, if you are putting something up that is all about you, it probably isn't as interesting as you think.
And, by the way, visit the Eye on FDA YouTube channel regularly! Haha.