We’ve provided counsel to many clients in healthcare, energy and financial services struggling to balance the necessity of engaging stakeholders while maintaining compliance with unclear guidelines set forth by regulators. So while attending SXSWi this year, I was intrigued by the panel dubbed “Friending Pharma: Patients, Industry and New Media,” which reinforced many of the things we’d been hearing from patients and digital influencers about what they really want from pharma in social media.
Working in pharma, we’ve heard digital influencers and patients share firsthand what they wanted in social engagements online, and their perspectives gave new meaning to the way we look at engaging influencers. The SXSWi panel served to further validate the following three powerful insights.
1. Be “therapeutically relevant and authentic”
This is arguably the most important thing to remember in healthcare. The industry often struggles to build meaningful relationships when there are so many unclear guidelines set forth by regulators. Typically, there’s no single point of contact between pharma and digital influencers, making it difficult to be personal and stick to key messages. The panel’s answer was to utilize people who are “therapeutically relevant;” people who share authentic similarities with those you want to engage. Most organizations have people who understand what patients go through and can relate in one way or another to the audience. These are the people that should be engaging with patients and influencers. Truly authentic dialogue utilizes individuals with commonalities and is vital to building a mutually beneficial, and deeply engaged, community.
2. Don’t forget that “your business is my life”
The bloggers in attendance at the panel described the fine line that exists between reaching out in an appropriate manner and overstepping boundaries. It’s considered inappropriate when you present patients with choice “A” or “B,” and you’re relaying the message that “we’re the better choice.” Companies need to listen and understand the patient’s story and fine-tune their approach. If they don’t, they run the risk of doing more harm to the brand than good. Directing patients towards clinical trials for which they may qualify based on the information they’ve shared online is a good example of a way to do this. No one wants to “like” a particular drug or promote different chemo therapies on their social networks. As one patient powerfully stated, “Remember that your business is my life.”
3. “Tell us what you can and can’t say”
As we attempt to navigate unclear regulatory waters, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that patients largely don’t know about regulations and rarely care. This is often the biggest barrier to creating a collaborative environment where people can learn and engage with a company. It was refreshing to hear from a panel of patients and bloggers what we’ve believed all along: that all they really wanted was to be educated on what pharma can and can’t tell them. Something as simple as crafting a Q&A page in partnership with your regulatory counterparts and posting it in an online community, informing patients as to what is and isn’t allowed, goes a long way in building the type of relationships both pharma and patients search for online.
Developing a pharma engagement strategy that encapsulates what patients need is not easy. If we take the time to let patients inform our actions and strive for more genuine personal interactions, the payoff in engagement will be well worth the price of admission. The key to crafting a mutually beneficial engagement strategy is to combine contextual relevance with value and education. As one patient remarked, “Once you get it right, the opportunities practically reveal themselves.”
For more information on how you can increase the ROI on your company’s engagement strategy check out PulsePoint Group’s research in conjunction with The Economist Intelligence Unit here.