In our Friday Flashback series, we’re looking at predictions from years past to see how right – or wrong! – we were. Today, we look at how online communities have evolved in pharma over the decades.

In 2010, Intouch EVP Wendy Blackburn wrote about pharma’s history with social media and online communities, explaining that “the connection between pharma and social media goes back 10 years or more” before 2010!

We often forget that today’s social networks aren’t the first way that pharma interacted with patients online. Before Snapchat and Instagram, before Facebook and LinkedIn, before Myspace and Friendster, there were message boards and other online communities where patients could connect and share. In fact, Intouch’s founder, Faruk Capan, created the industry’s first patient community portal, MS Watch, circa 1996.

In the intervening two decades, much has happened.

Online communities have evolved like crazy — from text-only bulletin boards and chat rooms to the photo- and video-centric social networks of today.

And as we’ve kept pace with the speed of technology, Intouch has won a ton of awards for our work, including being named Agency of the Year five times, and winning the first-ever Webby Award in the Pharmaceuticals category.

The “world” of online communities in 2007.

But while so many years have passed, and so much has happened, online communities have remained a mainstay in industry conversation.

In 2010, Wendy said, “It is our responsibility to control the hype so social media can be looked upon with level heads by all… [T]he industry needs trailblazers to lead the way. We need more… open, public dialogue between industry and customers.” Those words are as true now as they were seven years ago.

Patients and healthcare providers need one-on-one experiences to help them manage their health more than ever. When brands can improve the degree to which accurate, empathetic, useful information and meaningful connections can be made about health, that’s only ever going to be a good thing. And online communities and social media can be great for that. 

Our work is about engaging attention, motivating action, and driving positive behavior change. When online patient communities, in whatever iteration they currently exist, can do that, it can be awesome and powerful.

For more in this series, check out