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How Can Pharma Gain Social Media Credibility? Partner with Trust Agents

Posted by | 12:47pm on Monday, May 3, 2010

Pharma can provide support and leverage the credibility of these online leaders. 

Just like a good guest brings wine to a dinner party, pharma companies should bring value to the social media space. Companies who want to successfully engage in social media should first assess what is missing – ideally by asking those already engaged – and then contribute that to the social media party.

This is particularly important for pharmaceutical companies who generally suffer from bad reputations and are viewed as untrustworthy by many people.

The book Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julian Smith provides advice on how to build influence, improve reputation and earn trust online.  In the online health space there are already a variety of “trust agents,” so it makes sense that pharma should partner with them. Many of these trust agents are nonprofit organizations short on resources. Pharma can provide support and leverage the credibility of these online leaders. At Siren we’ve seen firsthand that this type of collaboration benefits the patients and both organizations.

Support from Data
Epsilon confirmed that consumers are open to this type of partnership with a study in March 2010 of 1,350 U.S. consumers. It’s important to note that this collaboration needs to be transparent and openly disclosed.

blog-1Source: Epsilon, A Prescription for Customer Engagement, March 2010

Don’t Believe Everything That You Read
People understand, especially in social media, that all the information provided is not necessarily true. The Epsilon survey showed that patients are looking for validation of medication data.


Source: Epsilon, A Prescription for Customer Engagement, March 2010

The majority of people surveyed were open to pharma playing a role in this space, in particular with relation to side effects. One option might be providing resources to support a qualified moderator for these discussions.

What role do you think pharma should play?

This post was contributed by Eileen O’Brien, Director of Search & Innovation for Siren Interactive. You can connect with her on Twitter at @eileenobrien.

(Image courtesy of gcfairch on Flickr)

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

View other posts from Eileen

21 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • http://www.vivacare.com Mark Becker

    It is the real-world relationships that matter most and those are starting to materialize in the online space.

    For all the talk about social media & pharma, little is said of the physician-patient relationship. It is the physicians that patients turn to for their clinical recommendations and guidance.

    Physicians may be the most critical “Trust Agents”. At least that is the premise of Vivacare whose goal is the strengthen the online voice of physicians to help them to reach and educate their patients.

    • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen

      Thanks for your comment Mark. Physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers are the original “trust agents” in medicine. The Epsilon study surveyed patients and learned that 78% of those who do not participate in social networking sites said they “relied on my doctor’s advice”. Next week I plan to blog more about this fascinating study.

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  • Judith Copeland

    Good post. I have several friends who work in biotech & Pharma & have seen a complete rejection of social media owing to fears of violating Fed. regulations. They do have some legitimate fears. However, there is a credibility gap when it comes to people believing in what Pharma companies say and do based on their past experiences. Pharma has no one to blame but itself.
    Partnering with a trust agent is a good idea, however, even better is making a real change in the way Pharma interacts with the public. I do not think there is anything that can replace patient to physician relationships. Nonetheless, creating credibility with the public can be achieved though if Pharma starts to tell its story using social media instead of just trying to sell its medications. Have your patients tell their success stories, talk about about your challenges & frustrations, and be real about it

    • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen

      Judith — thanks for your comment. I agree that acting in a trustworthy manner is the first step for pharma to gain credibility. I’m also a big proponent of allowing patients to share their stories in a real way. We work with pharma companies who develop therapies for rare diseases and many of these patients are brand advocates.

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  • http://www.thestoryhouse.be Kristiaan Van Woensel

    Hi Wendy – nice post on a critical matter. The first hurdle Pharma should take is to restore its overall credibility since ‘selling drugs’ has been Pharma’s primary objective since decades now while it should have been ‘getting patients better’. And the multiple lawsuits against big Pharma concerns won’t make the situation better so Pharma should do everything to reach out to patients in first place, something what they have neglected much too long. Physicians(prescribers) have been the first point of contact for Pharma until now. So, engaging with patients directly would be ‘one bridge too far’ in my opinion. For several reasons: lack of trust and credibility(as mentionned), lack of expertise in engaging with patients, lack of expertise in behaving in a digital world, lack of legislation, etc…From my own experience as a communication consultant in Pharma, I state that all these facts have a paralyzing impact on Pharma, what explains that the majority is still doing nothing in order to engage deeply with patients (but also with HCP’s) through social media.

    So, although there are many good examples of how some pharma companies already engage( http://www.doseofdigital.com/healthcare-pharma-social-media-wiki/),

    I believe as well as you all, starting with supporting(funding without any business conditions)) existing media(trust agents) would be a good learning school. In a second step, pharma should consider to add value by getting programs out that do matter to patients(and not to Pharma itself)

    A lot of market research with patients is fundamental before Pharma would go, where it belongs, and that is with its endusers, the patients…

  • http://www.medicalandpharmamarketing.com Rob (A.R.J.) Halkes

    As always in matters of public communication and information, it looks like necessary to know up front what you as a pharma company intent to and expects from this kind of partnering and interaction.
    Lots of options arise for such a cooperation and I believe it depends on what to and how, to specify conditions of success for the cooperation. For example, it matters a lot whether you as a pharma company have a promotional intention or a supporting one, to begin with. Next, there is the issue of the partner with whom you want to deal. What is it that they want and when is it positive for them to partner with the pharmaceutical co. and the deal that you like to make. Furthermore, to end with, it is not an easy thing to do or one without risks to both partners: experience of partnering, also from other branches, shows how aligning distrust with trust may result in suspicion!

    • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen

      Rob — Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that this type of partnership needs to be very clearly defined and expectations established from the start.

  • http://sireninteractive.com Wendy

    Kristiaan — Thanks for your thoughtful response to this post by my colleague, Eileen. I agree that pharma has a long way to go to rebuild trust with the public. It’s hard to believe that there was a time less than 40 years ago that the pharmaceutical industry was one of the most admired. As they say — it is so much easier to lose trust than to keep it.

    I believe that pharma has information that is useful to HCPS and patients, and they should have a place at the table for all of our benefit. The issue is, they have to find a way to earn that place. Ideally they need to operate in a more transparent, patient-oriented (as you so rightly point out), value-centered way.

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