LiveWorld provides private label social network solutions for brands, including strategy, management, moderation, insight and platforms. Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO, spoke with eMarketer about pharmaceutical marketers’ participation in social media, proposed regulation from the FDA and consumer behavior with respect to online health information.
eMarketer: What is consumer demand like for online health information and social networks that are dedicated to health issues?
“There’s a screaming demand for social networking on health issues, disease states and drugs.”
Peter Friedman: We think there’s a screaming demand for social networking on health issues, disease states and drugs. The nature of health care is such that online social networking communities can solve a real deep need for consumers and medical professionals. It’s a very important and emotional subject matter with constantly changing information. You have a situation where a person is sick and the people around them are deeply emotional about it. The information is not static, but no one has all the answers or insight in one place. You need knowledge and a lot of emotional support.
People want to find others who are suffering from the same illnesses and to know how they are confronting these illnesses. There is a lot of unmet need. We think the pharma companies are artificially held back from participating in this because they’re concerned about regulation.
eMarketer: How can pharma companies engage online and on social media platforms while awaiting formal FDA guidance?
Friedman: They shouldn’t wait. I think they should go ahead. Of course we’re doing that with multiple clients. We’re involved in moderating online forums, building online communities through Facebook pages, creating and managing blogs on behalf of pharma marketers and other stuff.
eMarketer: What processes are necessary in order to engage in online dialogue, and how do they affect the quality of the conversation?
“You have to have a defined plan and community model. Then, most important, you have to have a moderation plan with clear guidelines.”
Friedman: You have to have a defined plan and community model. Then, most important, you have to have a moderation plan with clear guidelines. In our view, the moderation program should be mapped right into a pharma marketer’s existing adverse-events escalation path. There’s no need to create a new one.
Pharma marketers need to design their websites so that the things they’re saying are clearly distinguished from things the consumers are saying. You can do that by using icons, statements and warnings. Marketers can say, “We’re creating this community for people with these particular health concerns, but these are controversial and sensitive topics and you have to understand that unless it came from our mouth, it may or may not have validity.”
eMarketer: Will real-time pharma engagement online ever be truly feasible?
Friedman: Sure, why not? We used to run a three-day chat group on diabetes sponsored by Aventis on a big consumer site in the ’90s called Talk City. From a marketing point of view, it was the best thing they could possibly do. If you personalize and socialize a drug brand, you can change the brand perception from being just a logo in the sky, to being about people that are trying to make products and services for my betterment.
Most people on social sites want to be listened to and they want to connect with others. The best assets for that if you’re a pharmaceutical company are the scientists, right? And they’re working really hard. You’ve got all these experts and if you bring them into the community, it creates a relationship with patients.
“Her perception of Johnson & Johnson is no longer that it’s just the marketer of diabetes medication, but that the company is helping her with the most fundamental issue.”
For example, Johnson & Johnson’s online community Children With Diabetes. Take a mom who has to give her kid shots in the middle of the night, and one night the kid is hysterical. She goes online where there are other moms who have had the exact same experience. They calm her down and make her feel better about it. And so her perception of Johnson & Johnson is no longer that it’s just the marketer of diabetes medication, but that the company is helping her with the most fundamental issue. Her loyalty begins to transcend the product.
eMarketer: How and when should manufacturers be responsible for correcting misinformation on internet properties they don't own?
Friedman: Pharma brands should be using listening tools to scrape the internet and target specific sites for mentions of their brand and product names. When they find mentions, they can approach those venues and tell them that they have more information on the topic at their site.