PATIENT MARKETING REPORT Social Media
Just as it followed other sectors
into CRM, the pharma industry must
ﬁnd entry points into the online
patient conversation. Gil Bashe
explores some of the issues, hurdles
and opportunities of Web 2.0
ccessibility of online product and disease-state information that impact patient care. Recently, breast cancer groups have lauded
has paved the way for a new era of patient interaction—and Genentech for engaging in a dialogue.
a new era in branding and communications. Online adherents, of course, also include scores of people with
Well-known brands once offered a beacon of light in a complex mainstream conditions, searching for information about diseases that
problem/solution world. Brands such as Claritin or Allegra, Zocor or
Lipitor, Viagra or Levitra, helped patients open the “what ails them” Pﬁzer sponsored a 10-part
discussion with their doctors and clarify drug choice. Now, tiered series of scientists’ video
co-pays, generic selection, pharmacy incentives and Part D plans diaries on BigThink.com (left)
are diminishing the importance of “brand” in the heads, hearts and while Johnson & Johnson
wallets of the consumer. And pharma marketers are experimenting created a YouTube channel
with a less brand-speciﬁc approach to online patient communication. featuring information videos
Suddenly, non-branded “disease-awareness” is back in marketing
mode. Do consumers notice or care any longer?
The model may seem counterintuitive for an industry so steeped
in brand names, but brand managers who want to be more than mere
spectators in driving online patient dialogue are going behind the
brand. Their tack involves communications geared toward treatment
discovery for small patient groups, commitment to achieving greater
compliance and conveying pharma’s societal beneﬁts.
The patient is in
DTC and Internet access have given permission for patients to con-
nect 24/7. While content is still king, patient-to-patient communica-
tions are enjoying newfound credibility. Online disease communities
enable patients to consult fellow patients as one might consult a
clinician. In the wake of diabetes and heart treatments under siege,
who is more believable—physicians or peers?
Nonproﬁts can be a ﬁrst line of outreach for pharma to connect
with a smaller patient base. Patient support and advocacy groups
are a trusted source of information on disease states. Focusing on
building relationships with these groups can give companies a seat
at the table. It works both ways—pharma companies should allow
these patients to have a voice within the corporation on decisions
mmm-online.com ❘ OCTOBER 2008 ❘ MM&M 43
PATIENT MARKETING REPORT
had once been a mystery. But there’s potential and peril. “The danger
is that if you search hard enough, you can ﬁnd anything you want,”
says Mike McDougall, director of corporate communications, Bausch
& Lomb. That’s why speciﬁc forums moderated by a respected third
party have an advantage over generic chat rooms with unveriﬁed
information. “In the moderated rooms, that information becomes
more authoritative. That’s the way organizations with a potential
to brand can become beacons of trust in this realm.”
Just as pharma followed other industries into customer-relationship
management (CRM), industry is following other sectors into Web
2.0 and using the web to reinforce compliance messaging.
Moderators on GlaxoSmithKline’s Alli Circles Community counsel
that Alli is a program and requires patients to rethink eating habits,
choose food with lower fat content, eat three meals a day, do physician As the host of online weight loss community Alli Circles, GSK is
activity and not to take anti-diarrhea meds—steps designed to man- required to report all adverse events to the FDA
age side effects. GSK leverages the engagement to affect conﬁdence
and minimize the number of patients stopping treatment. MD, is an example. Comments are welcome, subject to approval.
As the host of Alli Circles, GSK must report adverse events to Through the videos, J&J communicates about topics people care
the FDA. Once, sponsoring a site run by a third party might have about, and becomes a partner in promoting good health.
mitigated some of the “credibility” hurdles. Today, that’s not always In a similar vein, Quest Diagnostics has used Web 2.0 in its aim to
the case…being the hidden Wizard of Oz can diminish a site’s cred- up compliance with annual colorectal cancer screening. Its disease
ibility and bring congressional inquiry. That’s one of the reasons intervention awareness and prevention campaign tugs at the heart-
pharma leaders are prepared to go it alone. strings of people by asking them to e-mail a cancer screening aware-
Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) YouTube channel, where users can ness video to their friends and loved ones. The video garnered nearly
download health information videos featuring Nancy Snyderman, 200,000 views, targeting a variety of demographic segments.
One new venue for distributing content—the video interview
portal BigThink.com—uses its idea showcase as a way to engage
Connecting with micro-patient groups online with potential customers in a non-brand-speciﬁc way. BigThink is an
The Scleroderma Foundation sees its role as that of online idea lab that streams a daily stew of philosophers and PhDs,
information champion. “Not to endorse any speciﬁc professors and poets. Now add pharma to the mix.
treatments,” explains Foundation CEO Frannie Wal- Earlier this year, BigThink landed its ﬁrst pharma sponsor: Pﬁzer,
dron (pictured), “but to inform our patients of every- for a 10-part series featuring company scientists sharing their personal
thing out there.” That includes conveying information histories and reﬂecting on challenges. Just a few clicks cue up a Pﬁzer
on new treatments and clinical advances. pharmacologist’s view of developing drugs for the global community
There are about 300,000 scleroderma patients and a scientist’s advice for the next generation of researchers.
in the US, one-third of whom live with the systemic
Like its consumer-generated counterparts, BigThink has learned
kind—the most serious of the two forms of the
the importance of holding a transparent forum. Sponsors may worry
autoimmune disorder, affecting internal organs like the lungs and
kidneys, as well as skin, and causing gastrointestinal, circulatory and that their social-media effort may be commandeered by naysayers,
other issues. yet feedback is a vital part of the Internet. This is a good ﬁrst rule for
Orphan illnesses like these, with fewer than 200,000 patients, often the industry in general: If you go forward with candor and honesty,
form the basis for tightly knit online communities. Once connected by making clear your support and why you’re doing it, you don’t have
irregular snail-mail newsletters, these groups have found the web to be to worry as much about negative comments.
an equal-opportunity, 24/7 connector. Patients, their families and physi- Pharma should also choose a moderator carefully: Pick someone
cians are creating support groups to share breaking clinical informa- who will understand an issue and speak to it authoritatively and out-
tion, news on helpful therapies and new clinical trials. side the sponsors’ interests. Also, rethink the metrics beyond unique
Waldron urges companies to consider foundations a prime route for
clicks and time spent within an area. Sometimes bringing together
outreach. “With organizations, there’s an opportunity for companies to
the right people, who in turn host their own sites and blogs, creates
educate the patient base about information and support,” she says.
Specialty company Actelion, maker of the drug Tracleer (bosentan) the tipping point of patient knowledge and understanding.
for treating pulmonary hypertension, works with the Scleroderma Pharma can establish a bigger footprint in this evolving terrain.
Foundation to raise awareness of its Sure Steps patient support That could mean the kind of engagement longed for by industry—a
program. To get the word out, Actelion advertises on the foundation’s truly collaborative connection with patient advocates and info seek-
website, scleroderma.org, and in its e-newsletter and print magazine. ers. If pharma can fashion itself as a partner in health, providing all
While maintaining distance from the Foundation and its patient base, it supplementary information to guide fair-balance choices and the path
enables patients to ﬁnd out more about the medication their physicians to living well, it’s going to loom large in the minds of consumers.
use to help manage symptoms. Collaboration helps place patients a
few clicks away from the information they seek.
Gil Bashe is EVP, director of the health practice, Makovsky + Co.
mmm-online.com ❘ OCTOBER 2008 ❘ MM&M 45