Five ways to support meaningful pharma social interactions


The ill-conceived notion of ‘patient engagement’ has offered the pharmaceutical industry a poisoned chalice from which it has drunk too willingly, and too often.

The term ‘patient engagement’ establishes an unfortunate ‘us and them’ dynamic that serves first to objectify and then to alienate the very communities with whom the industry’s activities are designed to connect.

Bewilderingly, despite the fact that ‘patient engagement’ is vulnerable to criticism even of the terms upon which it seeks to recommend itself, this incoherent approach has been widely adopted and as a consequence of inadequate contemplation of its many flaws has assumed the status of an industry standard with regard to approaches to social media.

From another perspective, this industry-wide defect offers a competitive advantage to those pharmaceutical companies who are receptive to the idea that what is considered best practice may be delivering the worst results.

To those companies, we offer five suggestions:

Review the activity of existing social presences, and create new ones

Corporate accounts have a certain purpose, but they cannot serve all communities in every disease area. Identify the communities of interest existing corporate accounts serve, and restrict the type of content they publish to the interests of those users.

On the basis that these communities of interest will almost certainly not be patients or healthcare professionals, go on to create new accounts that focus solely on the individual disease areas of interest to your company. This will give you the freedom to raise awareness of your company’s commitment to those disease areas, demonstrate your authority as a subject specialist, and connect with patient, advocates, organisations, healthcare professionals, and providers on a person by person, account by account basis.

At the risk of stating the obvious: you will neither be mentioning brand names, nor molecules, and will only refer to drugs by class. However, everything else is up for discussion – and there are as many discussions to be had about incidence, prevalence, awareness, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, management, emotional impacts, support, the personal and economic burden of disease, and any number of other relevant topics as there are people living with, researching, and treating them.

Carry your messages to your audience

The pharmaceutical industry is now required to segment to an audience of one: the user in front of the screen seeing its messages.

Identify and participate in the discussions that your audiences conduct.

For example, play an active role in existing tweet chats; spend time contributing to conversations in facebook feeds other than your own; let community members know that you are aware of their work by liking and commenting on their Instagram posts.

Use platforms appropriately, refrain from promotion, and link to your own content sparingly.

Cover conferences live; offer summaries and reportage through your own feed of live streams from events; focus on the person in front of the screen, and treat them with the respect you hope to garner for yourself.

Change your workflow

Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done; not what you’re prepared to do, when you’re prepared to do it.

Many important patient and healthcare professional online events take place outside of office hours, and at weekends, and will need to be resourced accordingly. Not taking part is not an option.

Only by changing your workflow will your presences be able to participate in a timely, contextually relevant manner. Only then may they be deemed trustworthy.

Change your attitude

Take an intrapreneurial approach to challenging the proliferation of the destructive, buzzword-infested orthodoxies of ‘patient centricity’, ‘engagement strategies’ and ‘multichannel marketing’ and the like in your company.

Signifying an internal rather than an external focus in the manner that they do, such concepts are antithetical to the development of meaningful interactions in social environments.

They are incomprehensible to your audience, indicative of your organisation’s unquestioning veneration of outmoded business practices, and devoid of value as a means of answering the only question that matters in social environments: ‘how is what we intend to do today going to advance our community’s needs and interests?’

Identify, support, and collaborate with progressive health initiatives in social and real-world contexts

Put your 2016 budget to good use. Rather than building another app that no-one will use, or a microsite that no-one will visit, why not – for example – find a means of supporting patients to attend and report independently from conferences, or host a Patients Included-accredited conference of your own?

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