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New YouTube ISI Module Offers Pros, Cons for Pharma

Jennifer Starr

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In an ongoing effort to continue to be a viable social media and advertising channel for pharmaceutical companies, YouTube recently made two changes to its platform. They:

  1. Lifted the minimum media spend previously required for inclusion of the special Important Safety Information (ISI) module
  2. Changed the functionality of the ISI module so that, if it is included on the channel, sharing is no longer an option

ISI Module Now Available With No Minimum Media Spend
YouTube currently offers an ISI module to help ensure compliance of pharma company-sponsored branded channels. It allows pharma companies to include up to 10,000 characters in a scrolling box on the right side of the channel. The addition of the module has helped pharma companies launch branded channels, even for the most challenging black-box warning medications.

Originally, YouTube offered the module for free. Last year, YouTube introduced a minimum media spend of $100,000 — initially per quarter and then, after reconsideration, as a one-time payment. Recently, YouTube decided again to offer the ISI module for free. For pharma clients specifically, additional safety features are available at no charge, such as custom thumbnails, the ability to mark a channel as “hidden,” and Brand Safe Watch — YouTube’s non-public development environment.  

Use of Free ISI Module Limits Reach, Support
If marketers opt to use the free ISI module with little or no YouTube media spend, there are several caveats of which they should be aware. The ISI module auto-disables video sharing functionality and blocks visitors from being able to view the channel via mobile device. In addition, if marketers choose to host a YouTube channel with minimal or no media spend, reach of the channel — as well as YouTube customer support — will suffer.

  1. ISI module auto-disables sharing — Upon activation of the ISI module, sharing functionality will no longer be available. The ISI module and share function are directly linked in order to help ensure compliance because when a video is shared, the ISI would not “follow” the share. Now, use of the ISI module automatically disables the “Share” option on a video page; there is no option to selectively turn sharing off or on. A few related points worth noting:
    • This will not prevent people from sharing videos by copying and pasting the URL.
    • A direct correlation between the ISI module and sharing exists so that, currently, the only way to disable sharing on a channel is to enable the ISI module.

      While some more conservative pharma companies will likely welcome this change, the lack of option for users to share a video will obviously negatively impact the reach of the channel and its videos. 

  2. ISI module impedes mobile viewing — At this time, the ISI module is built for desktop viewing only. Viewers who visit a branded pharma channel with ISI enabled on a mobile device will see an “X” on the videos and will not be able to play them. As YouTube mobile viewing surpasses desktop viewing, the inability to view ISI-module-enabled channels via mobile is a concern.
  3. Lack of media spend equals lack of eyeballs. Some brands will welcome the option to host a branded channel with a free ISI box. However, if they choose to spend little or no budget on YouTube media, the reach and success of the channel will suffer. With sharing disabled and mobile viewing an impossibility, we strongly recommend some level of media spend to drive audiences to the channel.
  4. Limited customer service support. While there is no required minimum spend for a basic channel, the Google  sales team will not support requests for assistance beyond basic features if the channel does not have an associated media spend. For example, an ISI module requires inputting HTML code to create the final functioning asset; clients and agencies should be aware that YouTube would not be available for troubleshooting. Additional levels of service are available for additional media spend.

Conclusion and Recommendations
While some regulatory representatives will welcome the absence of sharing through implementation of a free ISI module, brand and social media managers could be concerned about the resulting implications on the channel’s reach. Those currently managing or looking to launch a branded pharma YouTube channel should:

  1. Conduct thorough research on the alignment of targeted demographic social behavior with marketing KPIs in order to have a data-driven analysis for the utilization of a branded YouTube channel, without social sharing, as a valuable and viable marketing tactic.
  2. Work with social media advisers to determine options for compliantly communicating Important Safety Information, with or without the module, potentially keeping social sharing as a functionality.

Over the years, we have seen YouTube adjust and readjust their specialized offerings for pharma, but much of the success and ease of managing a channel comes down to media spend. YouTube is, after all, a media company.

Like other social platforms, YouTube makes adjustments both for the benefit of its customers and its bottom line. Because we see our job as one of providing marketing value, as well as risk mitigation and brand protection, Intouch Solutions will continue to watch and translate changes to YouTube and other popular social channels. We will continue to provide insights, recommendations and — where necessary — workarounds for pharmas to safely engage in the social space.



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