Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the first (I suspect there will be more!) one-day Social Pharmer un-conference, held in Cambridge, MA, in conjunction with Health Camp Boston.
I’m sure that others will focus on the content, and much of the material can be digested in tidbit size through Twitter tweets under the hashtag #SocPharm. So, with this post, I’ll scratch out a few thoughts on other themes beside recaps of the sessions.
First of all, I have to commend my friend and fellow Pharma networker Shwen Gwee (Vertex Pharmaceuticals) for the terrific job he did organizing the conference. Everything ran very smoothly, both pre-event and during the day. With the able assistance of Jack Barrette (WEGO Health), who served as emcee, the entire event stayed right on schedule.
Kudos also to Microsoft, who opened up their just-completed conference center in their R&D building in Cambridge for the event. The venue was attractive, airy, and very well-suited for informal breakouts and networking.
There were about 40-50 people in the Social Pharmer track, and the engagement level was quite high. It was quite a mix of folks – marketers, healthcare folks, pharma people, consultants, vendors, students, and others. This was not a group content to just listen to “same old, same old” moaning about barriers to Pharma eMarketing – the general vibe was a restlessness to figure out concrete steps to move the industry forward, including building a more focused and purposeful network of stakeholders who can begin assembling resources and ideas. Stay tuned, and if you want to be part of the process, visit www.socialpharmer.com and join the network.
This was an “un-conference” format, which generally aims at far greater audience involvement (including on-the-fly adaptation of the agenda), and a less formal style of presentation. That’s not familiar ground to pharma folks – tech/social media people are now used to it, but we’ve got a ways to go to see folks steeped in pharmaworld adapt to a more spontaneous and unstructured format. But we took a step in the right direction, and just as we say of the use of social networking in this industry, you embrace the step-at-a-time approach and keep moving forward.
One main theme – as always – was the frustration with FDA about its policy of not providing pro-active guidance about the use of social networking. Some interesting pros and cons were discussed about that approach, and about the potential of generating “reasonable practices” (my term) through the efforts of various stakeholders to try to address the vacuum.
I’m sensing change in the air. There has been a quiet flood of pharma-connected people into Twitter of late (not due to Oprah!), and there is a restlessness with the baby steps that companies have taken thus far. The major challenge will be to harness and channel this creative energy into productive efforts – developing sound and sensible frameworks for new initiatives, outlining strategic roadmaps, and avoiding the regulatory backlash that would inevitably result from short-sighted abuse of social networking by misguided marketers.
We have a chance to do this right. Social networking, rightly utilized, can help pharma recover its declining reputation by providing an avenue for doing good and adding value. If you just want to “use” social media to grab a few short-term tenths of market share, please put on the brakes – now. First, take the time to get involved in social networks, and understand how people want to interact with you in the on-line space. Because people (not “target demographics” – people) really do want the industry to be involved, in ways that fit with the community’s expectations; not as a purveyor of Rx-seeking missles. We need to move forward purposefully, strategically – but with the long-term good of all in mind.