And if you do have a presence, this strategy will boost your efforts dramatically.
The approach I’ll describe works well for individuals and organizations in every industry, including pharma. In fact, as I’ll explain later, it works especially well in pharma. With keen execution of this approach, whether for clinical or commercial, you can be in a social media class all your own.
Before I get into details, here’s some important background.
A Social Media Review: 3 Major Options
Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post describing 3 major options for using social media in clinical trial recruitment.
Though the post was about patient recruitment, the general guidelines can certainly be applied more broadly both within and outside of pharma. Before proceeding, I’d recommend that you read the post if you haven’t already. But in case you are short on time, here is a quick review.
Each of the three social media options requires a different range of commitment, engagement, and timeline. These options are not mutually exclusive, but rather, should be pursued in tandem if conditions permit.
Listen, the first option, is where you should start your social media journey. And it’s something that you should continue to do no matter where that journey takes you.
For borrow, the second option, find others who have built an audience matching the profile of those you’d like to reach. Then provide the builder of that audience with a reason to share the audience’s attention with you.
For build, the last option, you cultivate and own your social media presence. Build, I contended in the blog post, is “the most powerful and rewarding route you could take.”
That’s not completely true.
At the time it seemed best that I not introduce a more powerful, yet more difficult to achieve, social media option. Now, for a variety of reasons, I think it’s time to discuss this fourth option in some depth.
The Fourth Option (and Why It’s Underappreciated)
A fourth social media option, which is the focus of this post, is my personal favorite. It is also very underappreciated.
Why is it underappreciated?
Because this approach is really hard to execute. And most people don’t like hard answers. They like easy answers. Furthermore, easy answers are easier to sell than hard ones. So hard answers tend to be brushed aside in favor of shiny (and oh so sellable) objects.
Easy answers are the soda of social media.Sodas might be enticing and create a brief buzz. But when the buzz wears off, you feel worse than before. To combat the disappointment of that fading buzz, you might be tempted to reach for another soda. And the cycle repeats. Ultimately you might become a regular soda drinker, negatively affecting your overall health and well-being.
Here’s common examples of pharma’s easy social media answers:
- Singular focus on vanity metrics that have little bearing on quality (Facebook likes, Klout scores)
- Using social platforms to broadcast promotional messages, while avoiding interaction
- Calling things social media that are not social media (see previous bullet)
- Continually shifting attention to the shiniest and newest platform or tactic, with little regard for the larger, more meaningful picture
I’m not saying we need to go full Michael Bloomberg and ban these sodas of social media entirely (now I’ve really gone too far with this metaphor, haven’t I?). But easy answers shouldn’t be a regular part of pharma’s social media diet.
Real social media success will require that pharma focus on hard answers. (If you think this metaphor might not just be about social media, but also about pharma generally, you’d be right.)
The fourth social media approach is the hardest of all, which is why I thought the above preamble was necessary. With that out of the way, I’ll illustrate this amazingly powerful fourth approach with a story.
Pharma Lessons from a New Orleans Vietnamese RestaurantI live in New Orleans, and like many New Orleanians, I enjoy a good meal.
The New Orleans dining scene, now more than ever, is booming. Because of the wealth of options, along with the frenzied pace of new openings, deciding where to spend your hard-earned dollars can be difficult. So how do I and others choose among the dizzying options? Social media.
My social media friends and acquaintances, without a doubt, are the primary driving factor in determining whether I try (or don’t try) a new restaurant. Granted, I am n of 1, but I can tell you anecdotally that I am far from an anomaly in this respect.
Furthermore, the influence of social media extends to those who aren’t even on it. I’ve introduced my parents (hi folks!), who aren’t all that into social media, to several new restaurants. And they’ve, in turn, introduced their friends to those same restaurants.
Mopho, which bills itself as a modern Vietnamese bistro and bar, recently opened in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. And people have been singing its praises on Twitter non-stop. Here’s a taste (pun intended) of what I’ve been seeing on Twitter since Mopho opened:
(OMG. I can’t wait to try this restaurant. Luckily, I won’t have to wait much longer. I’m meeting friends there for dinner Thursday.)
I can only imagine how much business these Twitter conversations have generated for Mopho. You cannot buy this kind of positive publicity. And yet, it cost Mopho nothing. In fact, at the time of this writing, Mopho isn’t even on Twitter. But it doesn’t have to be. Why?
Because it is exceptional.
Your Fourth Option: Be Exceptional
I know what you are thinking.
“Rahlyn, what the hell kinda social media strategy is that? Being exceptional works in just about all areas of life. There’s nothing specific about this approach that makes it great for social media.”
That’s partially true. Pursue this approach and it will have implications beyond just social media. But there is also something specific to this approach that makes it particularly powerful for social media.
People like to talk about and share exceptional things. That’s human nature. But because of social media, talk of exceptional things spreads far more easily and quickly than ever before. (The same is true of exceptionally bad things, so this phenomenon is a double-edged sword.)
What others say about you matters far more than what you say about yourself. And despite pharma’s best efforts, it cannot control what others say. But what pharma can control is its actions. If those actions are exceptional, people will sing pharma’s praises on social media and elsewhere. Believe it and bank on it.
Here’s the essence of my point:
If you are exceptional, people will naturally and persuasively talk about how you are exceptional. This approach trumps easy answers and cheap tricks every time. It’s also exponentially more powerful and meaningful than a controlled conversation. Pharma companies that grasp this new marketing truth are those that will win.
How Do You Be Exceptional?
Being exceptional is really hard. But it’s actually easier for pharma than for companies in most other industries.
That’s because our view of what is exceptional is heavily tied to expectations. And the general public’s expectations for pharma are quite low, given the industry’s horrible reputation. With a low bar, pharma doesn’t have to jump all that high to markedly exceed expectations. Contrast this environment with retail, where the bar is set by companies like Amazon.
Given this reality, here’s the strategy I’d suggest for pharma companies that want to be exceptional. Conduct yourself in a manner that radically disrupts negative stereotypes about the industry. To do so, hard answers will be necessary.
This discussion has largely been theoretical. So in part two of this blog post, I’ll shift into the practical realm by discussing the work of a pharma team that can serve as illustration and inspiration.