Over the past several years, the pharmaceutical industry as a whole has been wrestling with the whole complex issue of what to do about social media.
Is it a blessing or a threat? Get involved or stay on the sidelines? What is allowed or what is not?
Let’s step back for a moment and ask a far more fundamental question: Why should we even care? Do we need to become a social business? (the term “social business” is now on the ascendancy, to describe a company that embraces the use of connected people networks on every level to evolve the business).
Here’s why: the idea of social media in business is founded on a very important premise: The Gold is Everywhere.
Gold (valuable information, resources, connections, insight, new opportunities) is in our customers (patients and HCPs). Gold is in all of our employees. Gold is in our partners and distribution chains. Gold is spread out all over the marketplace. And in order to mine that gold, we need a technology-fueled approach to connectedness that will enable us to listen, learn, speak, and evolve. Highly recommended: this brief by SideraWorks on Social Business (be sure to download the .pdf).
We have some very valuable gold in our pipelines and patents and products – true. But when there is a field full of scattered gold all around us, is it wise to put on the blinders and impoverish ourselves? Particularly when all those people across the marketplace are shaping the future of healthcare?
So, let’s return to the premise: Gold is everywhere.
Does your pharmaceutical company leadership actually believe this? Is this perspective settling into the DNA of the organization? Because if it is not, then social media is just one more channel for us to push our message, and advance our agenda.
We have the gold (products), and we want your gold (money, loyal usage) in return. The commercial transaction mentality will only see social networks as a short-term means to an end. Sales.
Of course, we’re all in business to make money, and no company survives long without making profitable commercial transactions. But for pharmaceutical companies to begin to evolve into true social businesses – that is, to compete in the “new normal” world – there is a core perspective that needs to be embraced at the highest level (and this entire principle extends way beyond pharma, to every type of business).
Social media is predicated on the notion that more connections with more people communicating with less friction will create more value – because the rich ore is distributed, not centralized.
The gold is scattered out there everywhere, not just within our labs and corner offices. And the company that has the humility, wisdom, and foresight to build a people-network approach to communication and growth will mine more of it than others that cling to the past.
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Tom O'Brien says
This is a great blog post – and I love the gold mining metaphor – it is the gist of SM. It takes real focus and hard work to get the value out of SM – but there is definitely huge value there. Those that move first will capture most of that value.
Thanks – Tom O’Brien (NM Incite)
Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) says
Thanks for the reference to our brief on social business Steve. I specialized in the medical sector for many years (predominantly on EMR adoption, insurance carrier connectivity/coding to practices, etc.) and if there is one constant in the regulated industries it is this…no sector is more misunderstood, and more universally disliked by the public. I never seem to escape that thought.
I feel a ramble coming on so forgive me for straying off-topic a bit but I think it supports your point. Sure, social business models have a place at the table in alleviating that (perhaps a very big place), and they definitely all want the operational efficiencies that that can bring. But mine is a more philosophical comment. A focus on efficiencies in the insurance sector is required because of the negotiated caps on pricing…if you can’t price upwards, then you push on efficiencies to drive margin. Focus on maximizing pricing is required in the pharma sector because of the limited duration you can have a stranglehold on the intellectual property. Before we go much further I should state that I’m not defending certain practices here, is there gouging in pharma? Yes. Is there a ‘deny first, check validity second’ mentality in insurance? Yes. Is there a…well, you get the point. There are reasons the general public feels the way they do about these industries. But are there ways in which these companies can still be seen as ‘caring’? Can you build brand loyalty to a pharmaceutical company to the point where you’ll choose their variant over a competitors or to still pay more over a generic when it’s pumped into the marketplace? Can the risks and costs of R&D be better understood and lauded? Can your B2B services differentiate you to the medical community more than having an attractive pharma rep can? It goes on and on. I’m not naive, I understand the mentality that exists and why it does…or more importantly why the perceived benefits to those companies aren’t recognized by their leadership. I understand the feeling of being a cog in the healthcare machine, all dependent upon one another working a certain way and thus limited by the number of things you have control over. But there are opportunities there, even with all of the obstacles a regulated industry faces with attempting change within its operating models. In fact, I would argue that it is those very obstacles that make this sector so ripe for a company to innovate its model and not just its products/services.
Good stuff Steve,
Matt Ridings – @techguerilla
Steve Woodruff says
Matt – there are huge challenges in the healthcare/pharma industries, as we both well know. And while there are very specific regulatory hurdles that make social media/business problematic, I find that the cultural mindset is a far bigger hurdle. There are a number of people within pharma who “get it” and are actively advocating for the role of social networking approaches across the company (inward-facing and outward-facing). But I’m of the opinion that buy-in to the overarching principles (nicely outlined in the NOW Revolution book, btw) will really fuel the transformation to social business. And one of those principles is that there’s a whole lot more value in all the nodes than just what’s in my pocket.