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"Social Media is Here to Stay"; and Other Thoughts from #SM4Rx

Wendy Blackburn

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"We can’t resist. Social media is here to stay. So let’s figure it out together.

This was the battle cry of the Social Media for Pharma conference held in Washington D.C. January 13-14, 2011. Last week,I wrote about my general impressions of the conference here. Now, I’d like to get into some of the more "meaty" aspects of the exchange …

One thing that made this conferencedifferent was that it wasn’t crowded with self-described social media gurus (read our Sr. Emerging Media DirectorJim Dayton’s take on that).

It was people like us who wanted to learn and share, and ask and help answer questions. Also in attendance were regulatory, legal, and compliance representatives who likely were not personally interested in or passionate about social media, but have come to the realization that they need to learn more about it.

Karen Lowney of Cephalon shared very useful information on how her company approached developing a social media policy. She said they came to the point that they realized they needed to "rip off the Band-aid and go for it." I liked her Band-aid analogy, and suspect many other companies are near this critical decision point. By show of hands in the room, we saw there are still many companies that have not completed their internal social media policies.

Gil Ben-Dov, Vice President, Social Media Strategy, ResMed (note his title) took this idea further. Beyond just setting up internal infrastructure and process, Gil advised the crowd that, "Now is the right time to make your social media participation decision." He felt a well-designed social experiment (a.k.a., pilot) can help minimize risks yet sway the balance towards meaningful participation. He also suggested outsourcing the social media components that make sense at first, so it can be scalable and tested.

Laura Kolodjeski,Sr. Manager, Patient Solutions,U.S. Diabetes, sanofi-aventis U.S.,[client] and Rob M�ller, Associate Marketing Manager, Global Marketing, Roche Diagnosticsshared some sound advice and their experiences in participating in two-way conversations with the diabetes community.Yes - you read that right - pharma companies are engaging in two-way conversations with consumers!

Laura shared her advice and experiences in establishing a community manager role for her company within the diabetes online community. To a captive audience, Laura explained there is a lot to learn before diving into a two-way dialogue, and this goes for both external rules of engagement as well as internal processes and education. Before launching, she advised making sure your company is truly ready to engage in dialogue, for example, having procedures and response flows in place. She suggested it could be as easy as starting with existing SOPs and modifying them for community management. She said companies should be conducting social media monitoring/listening while getting these pieces in place. Then, take baby steps as you begin to listen to your community. Understand the types of content that matter to them. And once you’re prepared, start to dabble in the social space, starting with justone or two platforms.

In addition, Laura advised community management is not for recent college grads. Her point? It requires savvy and business experience. It requires team effort, often leaning heavily on agency partners and regulatory and legal counterparts. It requires a thick skin. And it’s an ongoing learning process.

It was a breath of fresh air to hear these passionate speakers present their case studies. We could see that these companies have found value in having conversations with patients and have also learned a lot along the way.

The conference conversations have evolved. A few years ago the discussion at social media for pharma conferences revolved around "Why on Earth should pharmaceutical companies think about getting involved with social media?" That evolved to "Okay, maybe it makes sense in some situations. But how do you go about it?" And now the conversations are focused on "Now that we’ve made the decision we’re going to engage, how do we go about it the RIGHT way?"

And, as the case studies of doing it the "right" way emerge, IMHO, that’s progress.

I - and several of my colleagues - will be at the ePharma Summit 2011 in New York City Feb. 7-9. Hoping to see many of you there!

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