Overcoming Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder

There’s been an ongoing discussion about how the Life Sciences industries can face and integrate recently evolving media which the Web has been and continues to sprout.

Remarkable as they are, the discussions are endless and most loop back into themselves without generating sufficient voltage to power an army of macrophages. Additionally, Pharmaceutical companies – beset by a myriad of constraints – are anxious about flipping on social connection switches which the Web furiously creates every day.

We could say that Pharma has a sort of Social Media Anxiety Disorder. What to do?

The answer isn’t in social media. It’s not in what the FDA decides to do. It’s not in echo chambers found within Twitter or blogs or conferences.

It lies in simple, basic economic truths. It lies in radical acceptance and in brave recreation. It lies beneath the proverbial nose of obviousness. It lies far beyond any discussion about the meanings and promises and purposes of new media on the Web.

Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder is merely a peripheral symptom of deeper pathologies. Let’s assess the patient.

NOTE: If you believe social media is the cure of business ills, this post may not be appropriate for you. See your doctor if you’re addicted to social media before acting on the information contained herein.

DEEP CONCERNS AND PERIPHERAL RISKS

Social media is nothing – an oxymoron at best: media are simply media, incapable of being at all social. People are social. Information isn’t social either – but it is everything. So let’s talk about information and why it matters in every nook and cranny of Life Sciences’ media challenges and wider business fundamentals.

Nobody doubts that the ultimate concern surrounding the the development, production and marketing of molecules and medical devices is their safety, efficacy and effectiveness. From production to marketing to administration/application, every step of the way involves risks: tiny flaws in R&D methodologies; overlooked nuances of human physiological processes, genetic mechanisms and anatomical structures; manufacturing and engineering oversights; misinforming marketing messages (unintended or otherwise); and administration error (provider or patient related).

At the core of all these risks lies information, which is the coherence of relevant data that helps to make decisions in light of risks. Any information indicating danger during any point of the entire pipeline can retard or terminate production or marketing or dispensation of a product.

Furthermore, the media through which information conveys its meaning determines its interpretation. Therefore, any discussion concerning the proper delivery of product information must base itself upon the most complete understanding of media possible. Few media are alike in properties, possibilities, limits and pliancy of re-purposing. Not all media can be used for the same purposes as other media. Twitter may help Dunkin Donuts move sales, but that doesn’t mean it would for Pharma.

And it’s this understanding of media which is at the heart of the circulatory system of discussions and decisions with respect to the Web’s place in Life Sciences. It’s one thing to say Let’s start a blog, tweet like sparrows, set up Facebook Pages and create forums. It’s quite another to do so remarkably without addressing both the deeper nuances of human communication, social interaction and individual psychological responses and their peripheral risks.

The order of complexity that arises out of the tasks involved in creating and cultivating safe and engaging environments for patients, doctors, pharmacists, employees and all other publics grows with every added layer of interaction.

It sounds hopeless – in fact it is anxiety-provoking. But it isn’t hopeless and it doesn’t need to be an unstoppable source of anxiety. But the reality is this: Life Sciences has far too many variables and concerns to tie together to ever completely satisfy everyone and everything when it comes to social media – certainly not right out of the gate. The Enterprise considerations alone are almost impossibly daunting.

It’s easy to see how most Pharmaceutical companies suffer from a sort of Social Media Anxiety Disorder. What will the FDA do? What about Adverse Events? What about them lawyers trawling for our mistakes? What about abusive flash mobs? What happens if 4chan decides to play pranks on us on Twitter or Facebook?

What’s the anxiolytic here? Simplicity: do what’s simple and simply do it.

More on that in a moment, but first a necessary but pertinent side trip off the path of new media onto the economic principles upon which any exploration of the uses of social media in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

NATURAL VERSUS UNHEALTHY RATES OF RETURNS

Let’s take a quick pan-back for a moment from social media to mention something about Capitalism and economic fundamentals because it’s the central economic context in which modern pharmaceutical marketing arose. An inquiry into the economic ramifications of a fast-changing world must the the foundation for any exploration into the role of media. And this will lead us to why simplicity is Pharma’s best prospect for long-term viability. Bear with me on this excursion. Why? Because if there’s no industry, who cares about social media?

The rates of return for the pharmaceutical industry over the last twenty years have been quite remarkable. After the industry radically transformed itself decades ago from a primarily scientific endeavor into a marketing Juggernaut, the stock prices of publicly traded life sciences companies soared. Blockbusters made careers. Fortunes bloomed. Investors beamed.

We could say that co-morbid with Pharma’s Social Media Anxiety Disorder is an addiction to quick hits of Blockbusters and above-average rates of return. As we know, co-morbid conditions are often the hardest to treat.

But the fact is, these rates of return were not natural rates of return. Sustainable long-term rates of return for industries in their natural states is on the order of a paltry two to three percent. Why? Because the resource-inflationary pressure of high returns inevitably leads to downward pressures on sustainability. When rates of return exceed rates of regeneration, eventually capital systems collapse in on themselves. Sooner or later, pendulums swing back – the higher the summit, the more momentous the tumult.

To most pharmaceutical executives, the very thought of rates of return that low could cause chuckles or perhaps induce suicidal ideation. But eventually Pharma will face major reversals of fortune in the coming years. Here’s why:

  • The disruption of traditional marketing coupled with the infiltration of the Web into consumers’ lives will dilute their effectiveness;
  • The mis-coordination among the various international regulatory agencies and the industry will hamper innovation in customer outreach;
  • The internal weaknesses, complexes, inefficiencies of out-dated infrastructures will continue their pressure to reduce costs at the expense of development, resulting in positive feedback on tightening concentric loops of cost-reduction and market contraction;
  • The pool of bright young talent will flow to tech and other sectors while flowing away from an industry who’s public reputation has suffered years of traumatic wounds (many self-inflicted).

Furthermore, the revealing essence of media technologies will continue to illuminate fundamental truths about the industry and bear novel stresses on it:

  • The proliferation of social media will continue to shed light on weaknesses inherent within organizations: information about organizations will increasingly leach into the public sphere.
  • The raw scapegoating potential of new media will fuel public relations fires like never before seen and their financial impacts may be enormous, and their recovery will be slow and painful. Perhaps not in the immediate future (contrary to some of the hypers of the “power” of social media) – but as new media proliferate, the peripheral costs and risks associated with maintaining communities will rise considerably. (See Dennis Howlett’s excellent piece on how Nestle’s Facebook problem had no significant impact on its share prices.)
  • Worsening depressive global economic conditions will likely usher forth political demands for tighter regulatory controls. When people are hungry, they cry for blood.

Therefore, the industry must undergo a radical realization and acceptance that their fundamentals need serious attention. A critical dissection of assumptions and traditional business thinking will need to take place. The harsh realities of the 21st Century’s upending nature must be faced without fear. The marketing models which were co-opted from the Cereal and Automobile industries will be tough to break down and replaced with fresh perspectives on the ever-shifting ways in which people consume their information.

Meanwhile, the social engineering foundation of modern marketing ushered forth by Edward Bernay’s will continue to falter. Unless, of course, a few geniuses emerge who will discover some magical formula to mechanize social media into standard operating algorithms – as was done with traditional media. Not impossible, but it was much easier to do with unilateral oligopolies of mass communication.

There are times in our lives when incredibly hard and frightening decisions must be made. The same applies to companies and industries – entire countries in fact. And it’s always those simple decisions that must be made and are most often the most difficult to execute.

Pharma’s simple way out of its coming dark ages is nothing less than the task of utterly re-vamping itself into an entirely new industry – one which will be supple and cleaver and ethical enough to win the attention and social capital so critically necessary to hold sway in the coming world. It’s not social media, stupid: it’s The Capital.

Here are a few simple things Pharma can right now to inject true hope into its future:

  • Invest in education. Where will the next generation of molecular biologists and geneticists and engineers come from? Set up a consortium of education which extensively funds captivating educational programs which spark the attention of a youth easily distracted by the temptations of the Web. The Web is a perfect medium to extent in-real-life educational experiences, even while it opens up new temptations for distraction. The Web’s disruption of education means we must dovetail new media technologies with the traditional disciplines and rigors of learning about what matters. The public and private systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable in this regard, which implies opportunities for industrial talent to avail itself of its knowledge and expertise.
  • Shift capital-flows from over-marketing back to R&D. Wait? What? If we don’t invest in marketing we won’t have sales, which means we can’t develop products. The retort: the future of traditional marketing is bleak. Accept the losses now. A robust portfolio of novel pipelines for products – in conjunction with re-designing public relations with valuable social propositions – will lead to healthier long-term prospects for capital accumulation.
  • Begin the process of re-designing infrastructure and process from an assembly-line basis into info-social ecosystems. Capitalism is in the process of transitioning from deriving value through mechanized re-allocation and transformation of resources towards creating value out of the informational synergies of social connections. As the cost of technologies shrink while their powers expand, the opportunities to more fully realize the power of ideas and experiences expand. How many more discoveries and advances in molecular genetics be made if businesses were based upon social designs instead of mechanical rigors?
  • Extract value from the innate experiences of human capital within the enterprise. Building on the previous investment strategy, there is an entire sub-industry within the Pharmaceutical industry which has never been tapped. The collective wisdom-power of doctors, nurses, engineers, geneticists and other key players is an enormous source of business value. Entrenched stiff organizational structures have buried the collective values that can be derived from the vast array of product and service ideas inherent in these collective talents. Investing in re-designing business towards info-social ecosystems will develop the platforms necessary to yield the potency of human creativity and innovation.

Of course, maybe it’s already too late for the large pharmaceutical companies. If that’s the case, then the smaller enterprises have an open opportunity to gun for the future – especially if they refuse to be subsumed into the Juggernauts, which anymore are more like Holding Companies than actual creators and producers.

If 20th Century Capitalism taught us anything, it’s this: Juggernauts often jeapordize their long-term sustainability by assuming their ways of doing business are eternally solvent. They aren’t: Technology brings forth into world both opportunity and obsolescence. It reveals the status quo even while it destroys it.

THE SIMPLE TRUTH

If the industry is to be what it aught to be – a leading creator of technological solutions to biological problems – then it will have to abandon the now false hope of generating unnatural rates of return via outmoded mechanisms, processes, strategies, tactics. Because if it continues to believe its industry is an exemption from the eternal laws of supply and demand, of resource and allocation, and of creativity and innovation, then it will perpetuate a belief system that will continue to funnel its efforts into practices which forgo richer long-term prospects.

This is not only a matter of industrial health: it’s a public health urgency. A bankruptcy of novel bio-molecular advancement would be catastrophic for health care.

Connecting points of suffering with points of care. That’s the simple going concern of the Life Sciences industry.

This connecting is what marketing is all about. All efforts from idea to development to production to consumption create the ribbon of presence which is marketing.

BACK TO THE WEB OF CONNECTIONS

It’s not that the Web doesn’t matter – far from it. But the basic economic principles outlined above are the priority for all companies curious about how to integrate Web media into their enteprises.

There are places for new media within Life Sciences but the industry needs to be very basic in its approach.

For one, companies won’t get very far with “social marketing” efforts until executive leadership actually has hands-on experience with new media and a working comprehension of their properties.

No, the only way things will move is when middle and executive managers start using these media personally (none of it is hard). They need to go through this process before clear-headed strategies can be well formulated. Here’s how, in order:

  1. Executives must gain Web Literacy (this is a limiting agent).
  2. Then they must step back and re-frame everything they think they understand about media.
  3. After that, they need to imagine the re-purposing possibilities of the various media.
  4. They need to put together small packs of champions who – with permission – can go forth and lead the way with small steps.
  5. They will have to initiate the system-deep integration of social design into their companies (and Enterprise versions of Facebook ain’t it).

Once they understand how to use these media themselves, only then will they see the potential and pitfalls. They will realize the importance of accumulating Social Capital. They will see more clearly what it takes to create content and communities and the safe connections which engender markets where information can be safe and effective.

The economics of life science products and the realities of emerging shifts in the properties of adopted media dovetail each other over time. Perhaps not immediately, but it won’t be too long before the industry sees the need to change. That’s why the previous discussion about Capitalism is so important and relevant to any discussion on social technologies. Social media are merely revealing the deeper needs to re-vamp the industry’s microecnomic and enterprise schema.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR INSTEAD OF A DOG

The Web decentralizes centers of information. It rewards erratic volume at the expense of disciplined silence. It atomizes the world’s data while it connects disparate sources of information.

The Web is seductive. It promises Democratization. Unfortunately, seductive promises usually break.

And so it is with Pharma’s relationship to social and other media. In lust for easy returns by the promise of cheap media, fundamentals are easily forgotten. Longevity of industrial health is put at risk. The savviest get-rich schemes don’t sound like get-rich schemes. And yet, most of the talk about “social marketing” does in fact possess within it the underlying pitches of get-rich schemes.

Pharma will have to get back to fundamentals in economic design and collaborative networks. It needs to bring the life scientists back to front-and-center as pioneers of not only innovation but also creativity (and not in the way David Ogilvy abhorred the word). It will have to develop new ways to work with doctors and nurses, patients and the public.

It will have to answer, continually, questions such as these:

  • What is the effect of the Web on the health of human beings, from birth to death?
  • How does the Web affect collaboration? What about culture in general?
  • How can those with expertise create music that shunts the attention and interest of consumers away from the cacophony of charletons or from well-intended but misguided people? After all, a little knowledge can be more dangerous than complete ignorance – life science and health care aren’t always intuitive.

It will need to propound into the FDA’s collective head the one eternal truth of the web: On the Internet, nobody knows your’re a dog – but they may think you’re a doctor.

The imperative for leaders in life sciences businesses to understand the emerging roles of emerging media has never been more important. Moreover, the enframing of these media must line up with a fresh perspective on the nature of Capitalism in an age where social currencies emerge as substantive elements in the Capital System at large.

Pharma: Give up false hope in a Social Media Utopia. Overfed Utopian desires always end up backsliding into disasters. Get back to the science of life and the art of being a hero. Re-examine the fundamental meaning of marketing. Remember that marketing is about Presence. Realize the costly long-term error in mistaking Messaging for Marketing. History will hate you if you abandon your duty to be spotlessly heroic.

If you’re going to integrate rapidly shifting new media into your efforts, keep things simple. Don’t aim for marketing gold – you’ll not only miss the pot, you’ll ruin your reputation forever because the Web is your last hope, even if it’s your biggest fear.

Find what’s simple and simply do it.

It’s that simple. But like life itself, simple is rarely easy.

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Will Checkins Be The New Inbound Links?

iPhone home screen updated: new theme & added ...
Image by waynesutton12 via Flickr

After having had some fun half-mocking health care uses of location-based media such Foursquare, BrightKite and Gowalla, I do think these services represent a small part of larger set of trends. Although these services have thus far emerged as stand-alone media, their essential functions can be thought of as modules which eventually will be mashed up and integrated and subsumed into bigger bits. And now I wonder if geolocation-based media may usher forth a new kind of attention-currency.

Just as links to a website play an important role in how we find businesses in Google, I can see how checkins could be part of an emerging trend to bring hyperlinks to “real” places. Services like Foursquare provide information about business in several ways, two of which are by number of checkins and the tips/reviews patrons tap into their mobile devices. Additionally, other meta-data (such as the number of tweets or blog posts referring to a particular venue on Foursquare) conceivably add attention-weight to businesses.

What’s interesting about these technologies, is how (and that) people use them. We now know – for good or ill – that there are people who willingly share personal information which only years ago they would have concealed within an intimate context. The revealing nature of technology becomes clearer as novel technologies beget novel re-purposing, which in turn reveal things about ourselves.

And so, anytime we consider these media, we have to not only consider their effect on human beings but also on their effect on the evolution of technology itself. The Web is giving rise to metadata-based media. Which is to say if the medium is the message, then the message of the future Web is metadata. Just something to consider as social-streams become a staple of human interaction.

Anyway, I can envision the emergence of other services which wish to capitalize on this new kind of IRL hyperlinking. What do you think? Will we see the emergence of a new kind of attention economy, where metadata like geolocation and tagging become valuable commodities?

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Pharma’s Social Media Onion

I’m a big believer in connections. The Web is opening up novel ways of connecting machines with machines and people with people. Networks that used to take months or years to create can now be established in days or even hours. For Life Sciences industries, this means biologists, engineers, doctors, consumers, government agencies and marketers can connect and interact within minutes – and they can do this via multiple media, from text to video.

Of course the flip side of instant connection include numerous dangers: security breeches, privacy violations, spam, flawed information, process hurdles, cultural clashes, etc.

PHARMA’S ENTERPRISE ONION

In order for an industry like Pharmaceuticals to be successful in online community engagement, it has to be able to peel away – like a giant onion – many many layers:

  1. Cultural sludge
  2. Resistant political domains
  3. Organizational fears
  4. Local and federal regulations (including interpretational ambiguity)
  5. Resource allocation
  6. Talent acquisition and training
  7. Process planning, design, implementation and evaluation
  8. Ethical awareness and discipline
  9. Content creation abilities
  10. Conversational skills – including a profound understanding of diverse cultures
  11. Documentation management (e.g. Adverse Events require consistent documentation procedures)
  12. Establishing a consistent and unifying online “voice”
  13. Cross-departmental and talent osmosis (e.g. Communications staff need to understand clinical processes, while clinical staff need to understand communications)
  14. Competing philosophies and ideologies and departmental directives
  15. Actual and public perception of engagement independence.
  16. A clear understanding of the difference between instant and real-time communications.
  17. Investor obligations (e.g. Investors demand rates of return in accordance with risk preferences – any process which adds another layer of risk with little perceived return is harder to advance)

Pretty daunting, yes? And this is the abridged list. Here’s what’s more: each layer that has to be examined and peeled away adds an additional order of complexity. The mathematics of this is not linear – that is, the aggregate order of complexity is not the simple sum of all the layers. I don’t know if it’s geometric or exponential, but it’s daunting.

BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS

It’s easy for advocates of social media and engaging with customers (be they consumers or doctors or the public at large). The reality, however, is that the order of complexity for Pharma to be safe and effective (so-to-speak) is high. That doesn’t mean at all that Pharma should sit in the sidelines.

But it does mean that Pharma will have to devote extensive care, attention, labor time, hard work, courage, creativity and supple musculature in order to be remarkable. Online, if you’re not remarkable, you’re nothing. There’s no return on mediocrity.

Anyone who has had to peel away an onion (either a real one, or a psychological one) knows the tears that can flow. It’s not as easy as it looks.

And yet…we all need to break-through difficult times. We all need to peel away layers of the onion.

The Web is making clear that organizations simply won’t be successful in community management and leadership unless they do the hard work of re-thinking and re-envisioning a simpler way of doing business.

What I’m saying is this: the “social media” challenge for Life Sciences isn’t social media. It’s all those layers of the onion.

Of course, once you’ve peeled away those layers, you find yourself confronted with a fresh view of the world. One you get through those layers, the world doesn’t seem so complicated. In fact, you start to see opportunities where you once saw danger.

Auto-captions on Youtube: All Our Base Be Long Us

The other day I posted this video:

Today I downloaded Google’s transcription of the audio and thought I pass this along to you just for fun. The results a pretty much bizarre. Oh, the SEO implications! 😉

My favorite clip is this:

I’m Phil common

and Phil gramm and are calm

about what

that’s what I meant

Here’s the whole transcript:

still down take money that shot he’s trying to clear up some of the confusion.

recording conversations about markets this conversation and why I think some of his compositions totally misguided misleading and all focus

in my opinion what matters is the audience and all this talk about social marketing and social communications in trying to figure out what’s the best term for this

what I have to say since very simple. the only thing that the way it is really doing with respect to marketing is this just adding a new feature which is the ability to just have a conversation

mister audience what that is your customers the fans

marketing is not about conversations it’s a part having conversations is certainly a part and now the way that that’s what’s exciting about this you can talk to somebody you can be available

but I eat

believe that a lot of companies and the agency’s are making away bigger deal about conversational aspect of these new media

that is really necessary

and all the talk and all that though case

I think the audience is getting lost

the sea having an audience

it’s not the same thing is just broadcasting unilateral messages like spaghetti against the Wall no not by any means

if you don’t have an audience you don’t have a business

you don’t have an organization

the leading nobody

no an important part about businesses leadership

marketing is about presence

it’s about leadership

now you just have media which you can now

it’s a racket get feedback

because shortcut a lot of the

complicating research that the student on twenty third years ago

that is the problem by making too much of this conversation part

to really think about it what kind of world we want with it

to in the world

were all interacting with multiple brands

day to day

I think it’ll destroy that’s nuts

in the last ten fifteen years because of technological changes

people of guns Fed up with

traditional advertised all this kind of spanning house

and I think if you over to the social component with regard to your marketing efforts

I think eventually all this just to get printout from that in the will be back to where we

are now with traditional advertising which is

I don’t want to be with us but we don’t wantto know that brings

this really all people want

it’s just availability

if something goes wrong they want to have some customer service

if you want to be educated

and they want to be educated get questions you want to be the answer

the ultimate people want to be part of the knowns patients

well they they want to be an audience to but they want the ability to be heard

you ask you questions

so this conversation of peace is very important

but it’s not cool

conversation is not a strategy

leading an audience that’s true

just think about that

it’s easy to get lost in all the talk about

still some media to to the basics

if your direct marketer

don’t forget copy skills

long copy

it’s too important to sit now copies of of video

are you text

and I teach and to bill them

interactive on to those are important skills

don’t think that’s clear and facebook

analysts also media stuff

it’s something that’s a big deal

so again but that’s it

being an audience for important tragic the conversation

as Justice still companies

anyway getting questions to for to contact
me

I’m Phil common

and Phil gramm and are calm

about what

that’s what I meant

and if you can’t have a conversation with
me

if they commit a horrible

wait for three six two

zero four five one

and I hope to keep you could stuff

welcome

I guess we’ll have to speak our clearest from now on. You can hear and watch the original here.

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Better to Play It Safe

When a new force in the world makes life more difficult and frightening and upturning – like the Web – the stakes get higher. So many things can go wrong if you don’t do it right. You can get stampeded and lose the game. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

THE SIDELINES ARE MORE APPEALING

The Web is making the world more and more dangerous. If you run a pharmaceutical enterprise and decide to blog or tweet or otherwise open yourself up, people will report adverse events. If that happens, you’ll have to work harder. That means more standard operating procedures, more trained personnel- maybe even more fines and letters from the FDA. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

If you run a hospital and decide to establish a vast living presence on the Web, people will say bad things about your doctors, your nurses, your waiting times in the ER, your food. You’ll have to deal with HIPAA. There’s also a chance that you’ll say something you’ll regret. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

If you run a newspaper and decide to use Twitter to gather information, distribute the results of your journalistic excellence and express opinions, people will stop buying your paper. Why should people buy your newspaper when they can get content for free? Getting to the point of dazzling the people with your professional curation skills is just too hard to do anymore. Turning the very technology that turned your industry upside down into your favor is risky and hard. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

A NEW PAIR OF LENSES

Of course, you could look at the world through different lenses. You could look upon the Web as a sea of infinite nonsense, a place where people are thirsty for rare perspective and wisdom and value. The sidelines may be more appealing, but you won’t find any goal posts there. That’s not where the game is.

What does safety mean to you? Are you doing what you do because it feels safe? Are you sure that you’re truly playing it safe?

Wearing a life preserver in a jungle won’t help you.

If you do the hard work to make it easy for patients and doctors to report adverse events or file complaints about the treatment they received (or didn’t), you have a better chance that your product won’t get slapped with a black label or pulled from the market or that your hospital will get sued by people who feel abandoned or without recourse to you.

FEAR IS NOT SAFE

If hard work or changing your view intimidates you and you don’t mind living on the sidelines, it’s better to play it safe.

Sometimes, however, the world changes so fast, so cruelly, so unforgivingly that the safest bet is to live dangerously. Sometimes, it’s not better to play it safe.

Your choice. Win or lose. Eat or starve. It’s that simple.

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