Forgive all the font craziness here – my blogging platform went a little crazy.
Yesterday morning I was on the i-Pad early and was going through my emails and there was a notification that someone called @Lillypad had started following me on Twitter. I immediately clicked through to see the Twitterfeed itself. And there it said on the Twitter profile that it was the official Twitterfeed of the pharmaceutical giant Lilly.
Yeah right, I thought. I was highly skeptical. I recalled that Lilly had once in 2008 started a YouTube channel called LillyDiabetes that disappeared almost as soon as I had written about it.
Here is what the first tweet I saw said which was talking about the blog:
I clicked through to the blog. Also, by the way, called Lillypad. Huh, I said! Huh?
I checked out the blog and found it to be well-done. Why was the company doing this? They said in their posting "[b]ecause we feel passionately about a lot of issues that are important to our company and our industry, and we know there's plenty of passion well beyond our own walls. Policy issues like health care reform have been top-of-mind with the public for a long time. And industry watchers are placing an increased premium on trends like corporate citizenship. These are important dialogues, and we're happy to provide a forum and participate."
The notion that we should find out what companies themselves are thinking as individual entities rather than what is enunciated by trade organizations that represent the industry is quite refreshing. Industry need not be painted by the broad brush stroke of the lowest common denominator, but rather a company can, and should make its own identity better known. What are they doing to lessen disease burden in the world through their philanthropy? What policies would enhance access?
Existence of the blog was as interesting as the reaction to it. I quickly read the tweets on the feed and then I sent out a Tweet about the Lilly blog. A whopping 80 people used the tweet to travel to the blog site. And the number of re-tweets went through the roof. Before long, the Tweetosphere of folks who follow FDA and social media issues and industry were abuzz. Traffic was heavy. Everyone seemed delighted. And the Twitterfeed called Lillypad was sprinkled with questions by everyone:
- Are you going to have a two-way dialog with people, or just talk at people?
- Are you going to start a YouTube channel?
- Do you have guidelines....
And so on. It was as if we had spent a lifetime being lonely and we had finally made a friend. It was wonderful.
But it is also a little weird. Not the blog and the twitterfeed, they are fine, in fact – well done. The blog is appealing and clean and the Twitterfeed fed dozens of tweets yesterday offering information but also engaging with people and answering their questions.
But the weird part is this – why should it be so amazing that a company should be able to do something as simple as speak. To converse. There is, after all, a First Amendment. Why were we all so amazed that a new company joined the small, but growing number of companies (JNJ, AstraZeneca and GSK) in the blogosphere. And, as recently noted in my posting "Slogging Through Blogging as a Highly Regulated Industry…" recent research by eMarketer estimates that today nearly one-third of companies are blogging and that the number will rise to 43% by 2012.
Needless to say, 30% of pharma is not blogging. In fact, many in industry are frozen – not only in social media, but out of concern about what they can and cannot say or do with respect to talking about their products and educating patients.
A hearty congratulations and welcome goes out to Lilly and many wishes for good luck.
But in a properly regulated environment, one wouldn't need luck. We aren't in a properly regulated environment. Despite recent efforts at the development of a guidance, the FDA has been neglectful of the Internet and social media. Rather than turning on lights in the dark environment, they merely toss out an occasional match in the form of a notice of violation letter – not very informative.
On Tuesday, at the Food and Drug Law Institute meeting held in Washington, I will be outlining my thoughts on the FDA's Regulation of Social Media and the First Amendment. I hope you can join.