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7 Things I Learned at the ePharma Summit 2010

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1. Measureable results are a major question — and a major concern — when it comes to social media. First, the question we heard at these conferences was "should pharma be involved in social media?" The next year, the question was "how can pharma be involved in social media within a regulated environment?"And now, the question has turned to "how can we best measure social media?" Hooray for progress!

Several presentations, including the "Advanced Social Media Boot Camp" of Day 1, revolved around the question of how best to measure social media results. Some called for a "redefinition" of ROI/return on investment when it comes to social media. That, for example, might mean looking at "return on engagement" or "return on participation," but I have questions about how those metrics will be realistically received by the budget decision-makers. It became abundantly clear — if it hadn’t been already — that in order to prove the power of both digital marketing and social media, it is up to marketers and their agency partners to, as Paul Ivans (Evolution Road) put it, "deliver the ROI in order to change the game ... Use the numbers to show digital works." He’s completely right.

I always enjoy sanofi-aventis’ Dennis Urbaniak’s caution to "avoid shiny object syndrome," another dangerous affliction that affects marketers and agencies alike and tends to give social media a bad rap. In the wise words of Urbaniak: "Marketing is a finance exercise; you’re investing in different areas for a positive return." And consultant Kevin Nalty advised, "It’s not the 'R’ in ROI that is making it hard, it’s the 'I’ … it’s these insane investments … Keep it cheap and the risk is lower."

2. Not very many pharma companies have social media guidelines in place yet. It seems I attended a conference 2 years ago where a forward-thinking pharma company explained how they’d arrived at their own social media guidelines, and it had taken them several years. But we’re still hearing in Feb. 2010 that companies like Eli Lilly and others are still working on their policies. (For more on that, see Kevin Walsh’s recap of Eli Lilly’s Mel Halkyard presentation) It’s scary to think how long it’s taking them. I did like one suggestion, however, that companies not only develop their social media use policies, but publish them as they would their privacy policy. That’s a nice step toward transparency and full disclosure.

3. At least for now, everyone -- and no-one -- owns social media. I’d asked the question in the past about which marketing function owns social media. At this conference, we saw a number of case studies that were driven by marketing, some by product PR, and yet others by corporate communications. It really goes back to the objectives, and, as was pointed out, there is a big distinction between corporate communications and product marketing. Corporate communications is ahead in social media because they have fewer rules. 

4. We all need to listen more to the patient. Really listen. There’s been much talk in the past six months or so about the need for pharma to get in touch with the ePatient, and this conference was no exception. Surprise guest "ePatient Dave" (see his blog at was truly inspiring as a speaker, a survivor, and an extremely engaged ePatient. His best advice:

’Patient’ is not a third-person word. Your time will come. You or someone in your family WILL experience a health crisis.

It is always a healthy wake-up call for a patient to tell us marketers like it is.

5. The time may be coming that pharmas will need to evolve beyond the pill. Nike+ was provided as an example of a "value-add" product that a non-pharma company is now offering, and it’s a lot more than running shoes. It was argued that pharmaceutical companies make products, and they also need to provide health information and support to the consumers and professionals that use these products. Apps and devices will begin to fill this void. I wonder, though, if the reputation of pharmaceutical companies doesn’t change quickly, will consumers accept this support? Or will providing these added services and support enable their acceptance?

6. The power of Twitter is real. This is more of a personal confirmation than one that actually was presented at the conference. I attended ePharma Summit last year, and it was the first conference from which I "live tweeted" the event (See this Feb. 2009 photo to see how small the Twitterati universe was just a year ago!). It was at that 2009 conference that I realized the potential of Twitter to inform and connect in ways I’d not seen before. I realized this not from a presentation or from a recommendation, but from my own personal experience of tweeting, meeting, and connecting with others in ways both virtual and real. Now, a year later, I often say Twitter means the difference between a handshake and a hug at these conferences … if I already knew your little face from your little Twitter avatar, I’m much more likely to give you a hug the first time I meet you!

As marketers work to convince others of the power of social media, we would all do well to remember the power of personal experience. How can we get regulatory, legal, and medical folks more involved in social media at a personal level so they better understand it and increase their comfort level?

7. Believe the weathermen when they use words like "Snowpocalypse" and "Snow-mageddon." Yeah — it snowed. A LOT. That said, it’s not always best to skip out of a conference early to make it home, as many did. There were probably about 100 people out of 400 that stuck it out that last day, and we learned a lot. So though I did get stuck in Philadelphia an extra couple of days, all in all, the presentations and the people at ePharma Summit 2010 made it well worth it.

Additional ePharma Roundups Worth Reading:

There was plenty of great stuff shared at the ePharma Summit that I wasn’t able to capture here, so I invite you to read some of the other excellent roundups available throughout the pharma blogosphere:

  1. Sally Church, from Icarus Consultants, zeroes in on the trends of video, mobile, and innovation on her blog.
  2. Steve Woodruff of Impactiviti provides a well-rounded recap here.
  3. Kevin Walsh highlights the Lilly presentation in on the Spectrum blog here.
  4. Daphne Swancutt of IMRE invites us to put patients in the pharma context here.


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