Quantity isn't the important thing really, is it? When it comes to communications, the issue is quality. However, when one is looking at social media, presence as expressed through numbers does count. That is because there is such a unique paradox in healthcare where, on the one hand, you have an audience for whom one of the primary uses of the Internet is to seek healthcare information and on the other hand, an industry that as a highly regulated industry has been reticent to become heavily engaged in social media. That is particularly true given the chilling effect of the lack of regulatory clarity.
It seemed like a good idea to at least get a snapshot of what is going on with respect to social media and healthcare, particularly as it involves medical product manufacturers. Thanks to Jonathan Richman at Dose of Digital, there is a resource for doing just that – a Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki. The Wiki relies on contributions from those of us who look at industry and are actively involved in healthcare and social media for updates respecting its content. So while there may be some holes, it is the best resource I know to use in getting an idea of what's going on out there.
Here is what I found:
- Twitter – There were at least 50 pharma twitter feeds. What was interesting was the diversity that some companies are developing, with increasing numbers developing feeds specific to a particular interest, category, language and/or geography. With Twitter in particular, there appears to be a growing segment from outside the U.S.
- YouTube – For the most part, pharma has been fairly unsuccessful with YouTube. Many channels have started, only to languish. Most lack a coherent strategy. Many are unconnected. Some don't allow embedding, which defeats the point doesn't it? Nevertheless, I counted about 26 YouTube channels. Many are specific to diseases or conditions, some are corporate and one was even in German from Bayer Corporate. Other international presence included Pfizer UK and Pfizer Europe.
- Facebook – There was some prolific growth in Facebook pages, and while I counted about 51 Facebook pages, my guess is that this is one of the areas where there might be some significant under-reporting. Here it was evident, as well,l that there is a growing international flavor to the pages, with such examples as Pfizer's Turkish page.
In addition, I thought it was interesting to look at the development of communities, both for patients and for professionals. To that end, I counted about 35 sponsored patient community sites, sponsored either by corporations of specific brands.
On the health care professionals side, there were at least 42, again reflecting diversity outside of the U.S. with the presence of doc2doc in the United Kingdom and coliquio in Germany. An interesting development is the more recently developed communities veering away from the general to more specific interests as represented by the American College of Cardiology community CardioSource or one started by the American College of Ophthalmology.
So there has been progress in numbers. As far as progress in strategy, that would be a different analysis altogether, and one not made easily. However, with the growing numbers and experience, one can hope that quality will improve and that social media will become a more comprehensively integrated part of communications. Even though there is evidence of a growing presence, the gap that now stands between the patient drive for credible and reliable information about medical products and the participation of those who make them needs to be shortened much further.