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BizReport : Internet : November 17, 2010

Pharmaceutical company websites fail to engage, communicate

Pharmaceutical companies need to get closer to those seeking medical information and advice online, concludes a survey conducted by Accenture, or continue to lose out to social media and other online communities.

by Helen Leggatt

Accenture found that, of the 68% of survey respondents who searched for health advice and information online, just 11% regularly visited a pharmaceutical company's website.

Why? Because while the majority (69%) of survey respondents expected pharmaceutical company websites to provide content about medical conditions and other information surrounding a drug they are researching, or taking, many websites fall short of the mark.

Instead of providing an engaging experience, with the opportunity for a two-way dialogue on a level that consumers can understand, many pharmaceutical websites are sterile and bland.

Just flicking through the websites for the likes of Pfizer and Wyeth you get the distinct whiff of corporate and not an inkling of consumer content apart from standard product blurb.

In addition, their online presence rarely stretches to much more than a website - few are using social media and networks, or even basic channels such as blogs.

This "cold" approach and disconnect in communication leads to people seeking out information from other online communities, such as forums, and via social media, which may not always be the most reliable of sources.

"Pharmaceutical companies that embrace innovations such as social networking and communications via mobile devices and integrate and align their communication strategy across multiple channels will be positioned to have a much greater influence on their patients' choices and consequently, realize significant increases in revenue, profitability and sustained competitive advantage," said Tom Schwenger, global managing director for Accenture's Life Sciences Sales & Marketing practice.

Tags: pharmaceutical, social media, website

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  • @Blackers3047

    A great post and in my mind this is a classic case of "old-school" senior management mentality that just don't get it. However, why should these managers get it when the pharmaceautical industry is a crisis-resistant industry e.g. financial crisis. Some people need and rely on chemicals to operate. Not all but a lot. Probably more that Facebook's 500 million active users.

    The governance around pharma is, as I understand it, huge. A website is not really a huge issue for them when compared to a 0.02mg over measurement in the entire product line costing millions in product recall.. not to mention, overdose risk, fatality, serious illness etc i think you get the picture.

    I am not sure I agree 100% with Tom's quote. However, I believe that if 1 of the pharma companies did spend time in the social media space (just media, not social network) listening and engaging with real-life industry consumers including their own, then what I think Tom is trying to say, that organisation will start to win more customers by developing trust on a virtual platform.

    People trust Facebook..... Corporate business doesn't, cause it cant control it..

  • todd

    Interesting blurb, but it's clearly written by some with no experience in pharma advertising. We attempt to create engaging experience but FDA restrictions/requirements build unsurmountable road blocks or force compromises that completely disrupt the intended user experience.

    The main reason for the absence of pharma in social media is the lack of control over the content and the daunting task of monitoring every single post. For those of you not familiar with FDA regulation, every morsel of content that is posted, hosted, or distributed by a pharma website is scutinized through a rigid review process to make sure the language and messages are not out of scope of what the drug has been indicated for. The instant off-label use is brought up in a forum supported or owned by a pharma company, that company becomes liable for off label promotion which is subject to huge fines by the FDA. We'll you say...monitor and filterout any off-label discussion. To that I would say...Even if they were to talk on label the Important Safety Information (ISI) will have to be present. Usually, that means integrated with the content at regular intervals and not just tucked off to the side. We are not talking a couple of's more like a couple of paragraphs or more!

    The other determining factor is budget. Not all pharmaceuticals products are big money makers, because their markets are very finite or have little ability to expand, because it's only indicated for one disease state. Thus, what's the point of huge expenditures in monitoring forums and communities for a finite market. Multi-indicated products and cosmetic products generally have larger budgets, because there is potential market growth.

    Wow, cool so Botox has several medical indications as well as a cosmetic indication they should be able to do amazing things with their marketing budget...Oops..there's that darn Safety information is a "black box" Drug, meaning that it can be fatal if misused. It has lengthy (ISI), it is plastered everywhere and must be visible when any messaging or discussion of the products many indications is present.

    Off-label speak is left to the medical community itself. The pharma corporations are not allowed to participate in any of those discussions. That includes content posted on any site owned by the Pharma company whether the comments are posted by an employee, consumer, or medical professional. Corporate representatives can not even answers question about anything off label or even where to find discussions on it.

    That's the big reason pharma lags behind in social media marketing. The gap seems to grow bigger every day because it's becoming more and more difficult to for pharma to responsibly control content on the web as social media technology moves forward.

    This is our daily do you keep regulatory committees and the FDA happy and make something interesting and engaging for the consumer...It's a tough hill to climb and takes a very persuasive team to make progress on that frontier.

    Just some perspective from inside the industry,

    thanks for the article,


  • Dear Helen,

    Great post! How very true that pharmaceutical sites are 'cold'.

    I suspect that one reason some industries, such as pharmaceuticals have not embraced social media, blog and relationship marketing is because they would not know how to handle the negative feedback in the volumes they would receive.

    I could only imagine the time and the personnel that would be required to man/woman a Facebook Wyeth page. I'm not saying it could not be done..surely other companies do...but I'm thinking of some of the reasons why Big Pharma has not opted into today's relationship marketing.

    And of course, the industry is a behemoth unto itself and has not really had to reach out (directly and with some warmth) to consumers to survive competition and a down economy.

    Doctors write the Rx and consumers head the drug stores...too sick to shop around.

    Thank you!

    Janine Gregor

    Virtual Assistant

    PS This is a rather good article which appeared on Mashable that discusses how to handle negative comments.



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