At the Second Annual ExL European Digital Pharma Conference held at Bayer Headquarters in Berlin this week, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel that was called "The Two Way Relationship Behind Social Media is Rooted in Listening" – which, in Europe it has to be a "listening" relationship since there can be no talking between pharma and patients. But there are even impediments to listening for some.
Many are afraid to listen, because they fear hearing an adverse event, or an off label use. Listen up. Pharma, while lagging behind less regulated industries, is already highly engaged in social media. J&J, in particular, has a YouTube channel, a Twitter feed and several Facebook pages. We saw at the conference Euro-based social media at work as well, during the excellent presentation by Sabine (Twitterfeed @skoko) Kostevc, Head of Corporate Internet and Social Media (See posting – Roche on Roche) who tweets for Roche (@Roche_Com). There is clear evidence that if the fears that have kept industry from the social media stage were real, presence in YouTube, Twitter and Facebook would be diminishing, not growing. It simply isn't happening.
The message I had for my session was two-fold.
First, it is clear that the time has come and gone that legal and regulatory fears keep companies from participation. In short, that is no longer a reason, it is an excuse. Yes, there is risk. But there is risk to a press release. The growing presence of industry, and the growing demand from consumers is compelling evidence that it is a matter now of getting involved, or getting left behind.
Second, the fact that earlier this year, Facebook eclipsed for a time Google as the main driver of traffic to Web pages represents a huge shift. And if you are investing lots of time and money in Search Engine Optimization, as you should be, this fact means that now you should be investing at least as much time and money in Social Media Optimization (SMO). If you aren't, you are only investing in one-half of of a traffic driver to your Web site, and therefore, to your messaging. SEO is by all means important, but SMO is a new coin to the realm. Better start using it.
I also had the great fortune to meet Andrew Spong (@AndrewSpong), European commentator on all things social media and medical products in Europe. His virtual personality is compelling, but his in-person one is also charming and fun. I was able to get some time with him as well at the conference so that he could provide his own thoughts about the development of social media and medicine and whether or not Europe is poised to make progress.