Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.

Alone We Can Do So Little

It’s becoming accepted that Boomers are (cautiously) going online for health information – but now over 50% of people 13-24 are looking online for health information . Which is great news for pharma: you can reach more age groups now.

We’ve always wanted trusted sources for information, especially when it comes to our health. But “trusted,” increasingly, means personal – not faceless. And if that’s a bit touchy-feely for you, new statistics show that regionally specific health information is the most popular . And just today, J&J bought HealthMedia, an online health-coach service provider.

So you’d think pharma would be all over social media. It’s cheap and it’s targeted. And, quoting the fabulous B.L. Ochman : We’re in a recession. You need to play like every move counts . Scrips are dropping . Budgets are slashed. It just makes sense.

This Brandweek article, “Why Pharma Fears Social Networking ,” has been making the rounds. And I’m glad the issue is getting traditional-media attention, but wow, is it old news. Nielsen did some awesome research that Melissa Davies blogged about in September. But even before that, I guest-blogged for Colleen Coplick in July all about this exact issue, after my very-first-boss Marc Monseau and I talked about it.


Here’s the thing we have to realize.

Talking amongst ourselves isn’t going to fix anything.

We’ve got lawyers, regulators, and scientists who must approve what we say, and where and how we do it. That’s a fact, no matter how we grouse about it. But we forget: they’re human, and they have to understand it before they can approve it.

And while articles about how pharma lawyers didn’t know what Google is let us feel delightfully superior, which can be specially nice if you’ve been in some really frustrating conflicts with them: it doesn’t help.

We just can’t, for our own self-preservation, be all smug and elite about what we know.

If I’m any sort of social media anything, I’ll only be successful when I’ve made myself unnecessary. When everyone around me is fluent in these media, knowing which ones are good for what, when, that’s when I’ve done my job.

You’ve got to teach what you know for it to matter. And not just on panels or in presentations. You can’t just be an evangelist on Sundays, right?

Don’t just talk to the ones who “get it”. Tell the people who have no idea what you’re talking about. The ones who think you’re crazy. Keep doing it. They’ll keep thinking you’re crazy. That’s fine. Because one day, they’ll point out some cool new social media thing to you – and you’ll see that you’ve made a bit of a difference. They get it too.

B.L. is right: you need to play like every move counts. But you can’t do that till you manage to get a team into the game.


Sarah Morgan

@Neil – I think monitoring is a huge question mark everywhere. And you’re absolutely right, ex-US has the same, or magnified, issues.

@Silja – Thanks for the compliment! I agree completely – one of the words my main PPT on so/me ends on is PLAY. You have to know what these all feel like for yourself before you can know which will work for what you need. And it CAN’T begin and end with one team – it has to be PR, and IT, and employee communications, and HR, and sales & marketing – everyone has to become involved for it to really work as well as it can.

Silja Chouquet

Thank you Sarah for this nice summary of what is going on with social media in pharma. You are absolutely right. It does take a lot of explaining, patients, re-explaining and DOING: I am a big believer in learning by doing and therefore, the day your bosses uses an internal twitter account rather than email or your project team puts everything on a blog… well you get it.
I also believe, and this might come as a shock to you PR folks, that social media needs to get attention from all functions. In some pharma companies it has been pushed into the PR or, even worse, IT departments with little or no marketing involvement.

Neil Crump

You are so right – we need to stop talking and do more doing on the social media front in the world of pharma. If you think it is bad in the US you should take a look outside. I practice in the UK (and Europe) and our clients, even those in communications, are struggling to grasp the power of social media (or even monitor it). As you say, us PR folk need to do ourselves out of a job and spread the word. The challenge with pharma social media outside the US is that we communicate in a much more restricted system (remember that direct to consumer communications about a prescription medicine is prohibited in most of the world). The pharmaceutical marketing regulatory systems are struggling to meet up with the changing online world. I am sure they will catch up, but in the interim there is a void opening up where, everyone, except the pharmaceutical companies themselves, can share opinions and learnings about medicines. There has to be a place for pharma in this engagement – time will tell how this is resolved.

[…] Nice article from Sarah Morgan: It’s becoming accepted that Boomers are (cautiously) going online for health information – but now over 50% of people 13-24 are looking online for health information . Which is great news for pharma: you can reach more age groups now… […]


Great piece- very insightful.

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