What can pharma learn from Quora?

*Andrew Tolve explores the potential of the online Q&A site Quora as a sales and marketing resource for the pharma industry*

Andrew Tolve explores the potential of the online Q&A site Quora as a sales and marketing resource for the pharma industry

What is the most important marketing technique for a pharmaceutical company launching a hypertension drug in China?

What is the best forecasting model when introducing a new statin in the US?

What if these questions and others like it could be answered by dozens of thought leaders and cross-industry experts in a public forum where anyone could access their collective wisdom?

Thats precisely the goal of Quora, a new Q&A site that uses the power of crowdsourcing to provide answers to almost any question.

Community members can follow topics, search for questions, respond to questions, pose questions, and up-vote or down-vote responses to get the most cogent answers at the top of the page.

On Quora, you get points of view from all different types of people and all different industries, says Nancy Diamond-Schroeter, vice president, associate creative director, at Torre Lazur McCann, a leading pharma marketing agency.

Its like you have an executive, a Web person, a marketer, a rep, and so on all in one room carrying on a conversation.

People on Quora are asking questions similar to those we talk about during our weekly chat, adds eyeforpharma contributor Eileen OBrien, director of search and innovation at Siren Interactive and host of a weekly pharma chat group on Twitter. (For more from Eileen OBrien, see E-patients: Educated, engaged, and empowered and Be part of the social pharma conversation!.)

Its not real-time like Twitter, but Quora does give people more room to share their opinions, which makes it potentially a very valuable resource for the pharmaceutical industry.

Is pharma using Quora?

Quora was co-founded by a former CTO of Facebook in June 2009 and made available to the public a year later, joining a number of established Q&A forums such as Yahoo Answers, Answerbag, and Answer.com.

What Quora does differently is provide a community framework around its forum, which can be linked to Facebook and other social media platforms.

In December 2010, the company revealed that it already has close to 400,000 registered users, many of which are based in the tech community of Silicon Valley and in New York City.

How strong a presence pharma has in this burgeoning forum is hard to tell.

Currently, the Pharmaceuticals topic has 426 people following it. Pharmacology has 120 followers, Healthcare has 1,309, Medicine 1,841, and Doctors 272.

But which followers are actually part of the pharma profession and which are just people interested in pharma, drugs, or healthcare is impossible to decipher.

Quora did not respond to interview requests.

OBrien says theres been lots of talk of Quora on Twitter, but that getting an accurate sense of whos using Quora and how is difficult because the site isnt very user friendly.

There are lots of unknowns, agrees Diamond-Schroeter, who found out about Quora through Facebook.

A lot of times I wonder, Who are these people? At this point its one of those things where you ask the community and see what you get. Hopefully, as Quora grows, itll become clearer and thus a great tool.

Strategic insights

Despite the unknowns, Quora does foster an open knowledge base and a running dialogue that could prove valuable for pharma professionals.

Mobile apps make life easier for external stakeholders, like patients and physicians, and add efficiency and effectiveness to internal functions, like sales and marketing. (For more on pharma and apps, see Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?.)

Sites like Quora prove that Web apps can play a third role in facilitating the exchange of information and best practices among the larger pharma community.

Its like a massive brainstorm, says Diamond-Schroeter.

She points to the hypothetical situation of a marketer struggling with an app: its target audience, its features, how to make it truly valuable.

One way to get quick, insightful answers would be to pose a question on Quoralike Whats the best app for primary care physicians? or What do hemophiliacs struggle with most in terms of day-to-day care?

Then just wait for the answers to come in, from marketing experts, physicians, patients, Web developers, you name it.

At times, I find Quoras potential mind-boggling, says Diamond-Schroeter.

A comforting feature for the pharma industry, she points out, is that questions and answers can be anonymous.

That means companies could theoretically go on and pose anonymous questions to gauge brand performance, patient outreach, and physician sentiment.

Yet another plus is that at times thought leaders and influencers themselves share insights and participate on Quora.

For example, search for the question What does [Facebook co-founder] Dustin Moskovitz think of the Facebook movie? and youll find an answer from Dustin Moskovitz himself.

Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, Reed Hastings, CEO of NetFlix, and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban are all members of Quora.

As the pharma community on Quora continues to grow, who knows if Andrew Witty or some other high-profile exec may drop in on a conversation.

At this point, I dont see any pharma CEOs getting on and sharing their strategic insights, so well have to give it some time, says OBrien.

Its certainly a possibility as the site evolves.

For everything app-related, join the sectors other key players at SFE Europe from March 29 to 31 in Dusseldorf and Sales Force Effectiveness USA from May 17 to 19 in New Brunswick, NJ.

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