Digital Pharma West in San Francisco

I’m heading out to San Francisco where I’m co-producing Digital Pharma West where I’ll be on a panel to discuss, among other things, Pharma’s integration of emerging technologies. I’m excited because I get to meet a lot of brilliant people interested in taking the lead in forging new paths for the industry.

There’s still time to register for the event and get a chance to network with a lot of talented people. Here’s the attendee list:

I’ll write more about the event as it approaches and blog while there as much as possible. You can follow the hashtag for the even on Twitter: #DigiPharm.

I hope to see you in San Francisco!

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.

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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