Whats next for marketing and social media?

How will European pharma firms connect with physicians and patients online in the future?

How will European pharma firms connect with physicians and patients online in the future?

The explosion of social media, online resources, and smartphones has changed the European health landscape for good.

Today, physicians and patients alike go online for advice, information, camaraderie, and point-of-care reference.

A recent study from Manhattan Research, Navigating the European eHealth Landscape, found that roughly 75 percent of physicians use Wikipedia as a medical resource monthly or more often, and often recommend it to patients.

The same study reported that more than two-thirds of doctors partake in online physician social networks.

Jens Monsees, industry head of healthcare, Google Germany, reports that Google receives more than 100 health-related search queries per second in Germany; health is second only to technology searches.

Additionally, health is the fifth most searched category on YouTube, and 35 percent of healthcare professionals use the online video hub.

At a recent eyeforpharma eMarketing summit in Berlin, Kay Wesley, director of Complete Medical Group, summed up the general sentiment: Why are we still asking if doctors use the Internet? Its like saying, Do doctors use the telephone? Do doctors drive a car? Yes, most of them do. Period. Lets move on.

Online initiatives

Some pharmaceutical companies have launched impressive initiatives to harness Europes migration online.

Pfizer has unveiled an online surgery called the ManMOT clinicMOT stands for Monday opportunity to talk and is also a pun on Ministry of transport test, the obligatory annual vehicle inspection in the UKthrough which every Monday men in the UK can log in and confidentially discuss sensitive health issues (like obesity) with doctors.

Janssen-Cilag has created Living with ADHD, a website and YouTube Channel to heighten awareness of ADHD among teenagers, parents, and teachers in the UK.

Additionally, in the past year many big pharma companies have launched iPhone apps for patients seeking information about specific diseases and for doctors trying to diagnose them.

Pfizer, for instance, offers seven free iPhone appsPfizer Oncology RCC, which helps UK physicians diagnose renal cell carcinoma, plus six apps for the French market that range from HemoTouch for haemophilia information to Smash Pursuit, an educational game about meningitis.

Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Abbott, and Janssen-Cilag offer free iPhone apps as well, and Pfizer and Sanofi recently became the first to launch apps for the iPad.

Regulatory concerns

But to call the European pharmaceutical industry adventurous online, or even fully engaged, would be a mistake.

Brand websites are often outdated or languish in obscurity.

And while companies may have the inclination to launch bolder initiatives, they lack the guidance to know which of the many new media formatsblogs, Twitter, Facebook, podcasting, banner advertising, sidewikis, etc.they should or are allowed to embrace.

Regulations have proved an impediment.

In Europe, regulations leave pharmaceutical companies really very constrained in terms of what they can do, says Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research, who helped produce Navigating the European eHealth Landscape.

Because direct-to-consumer advertising is so limited, taking advantage of any of these newer media formats and channels presents a real challenge for pharma marketers. (For more on the Internet and DTC, see Who killed DTC marketing?).

Even in the US, where direct-to-consumer marketing legislation is more lenient, the FDA has slapped 14 pharma companies with notice of violation letters for inappropriate online promotion, a fact that hasnt been lost on those companies European counterparts.

In September 2009, the FDA hosted a hearing on social media whose goal was to initiate new guidelines on what pharma companies can do online.

Those guidelines are expected before 2011.

Many European pharma companies would like something similar from European regulating bodies before moving ahead.

Obviously, the appeal of the Internet is that its so unregulated, said Heather Simmonds, director of the PMCPA, which oversees the ABPI code of practice in the UK, at the eMarketing summit in Berlin.

But the pharmaceutical industry operates in a highly regulated environment. Its one of the most regulated industries going, so there has to be guidance and advice about how you [can act] on the Internet.

Providing information directly to patients

Nonetheless, Simmonds believes current European legislation and concomitant codes allow pharmaceutical companies to do a lot more than theyre currently doing.

In the UK code, Clause 22 clearly states that firms cant promote prescription-only medicines to the general public.

But the clause does allow companies to provide a tremendous amount of information directly to patients as library resources.

That means that regulatory information, registration, medicine guides, disease information, specific medicine information, and material supplied for health technology assessments are all fair game to post on websites or forums, as long as the material fairly represents the current evidence relating to the medicine and its benefit/risk profile.

I fully accept that may not be exactly how you want to communicate with the public, Simmonds said.

But if you want to be able to build a presence and develop and argue that you need to be able to do more of this, its a very poor starting base if youre not doing what youre currently allowed.

Social interaction overload

Return on investment, or the potential lack thereof, has been another impediment to online pharma involvement in Europe.

Investing millions in a new e-channel can feel a bit like tossing millions of pamphlets into the wind and hoping they land on the doorsteps of interested patients and physicians.

Whos visiting your forum? How did they get there? Where are they going? And whats the net effect? All of this can be difficult to determine.

From the technology point of view, our business information teams and technical teams have pretty much got to grips with Web 1.0, said Irina Osoyska, e-marketing manager, Janssen-Cilag, at the eMarketing summit in Berlin.

But social media is a different animal, Osoyska said, one whose constant flood of interactions can be too complicated for Google Analytics or more sophisticated analytical tools to break down into easy metrics.

Were moving now from information overload to social interaction overload, she said.

Osoyska believes pharma companies need to devise new parameters that allow for fast actionmoving from analysis of data to information to action incredibly quickly, as social media thrives off real-time exchange.

Osoyska attributes the success of Janssen-Cilags recent online ADHD campaign for the drug Concerta to the creation of such parameters.

The campaign provided strong ROI, with sales growth springing from 0 percent pre-launch to 7.4 percent in less than six months, while message recall increased to 80 percent across target clinicians.

We thought through every step in that campaign, Osoyska said.

It wasnt just, launch a website and see how it goes, or do close loop. We did a lot of thinking in terms of planning and collecting the data, and collecting that data for a specific purpose, as opposed to waiting for the results and then deciding what to do next.

Get your digital assets in order

The truth about the ehealth revolution is that if we wait for the perfect parameters to measure ROI, and the clearest guidelines for how to provide digital info to patients and physicians, well likely miss out on the moment altogether.

The key is to act now with as much prudence as possible and in line with the relevant codes.

Jens Monsees of Google recommends first getting your digital assets in ordercreating a current website with intuitive internal navigation and engaging text and videosand then getting expert advice to ensure search engine optimization.

When you have something nice therea nice movie, a nice clip, a nice websiteyou want as many people as possible to see it, Monsees said at the conference in Berlin.

It seems easy, but when I talk to online marketers, I find out that they have all the budget wasted in production and zero money for actually getting people to their site. (For more from Jens Monsees, see eMarketing: A seven-step guide to optimizing potential).

Kay Wesley of Complete Medical Group recommends using Web 1.0 to engage patients and healthcare professionals with resources that help them treat and manage diseases, independent of specific brands.

However, on that same website, create a portal uniquely for patients of your brand, where they can sign into a Web 2.0 platform that offers additional services, like a patient network or a smartphone app.

Theres nothing like being in your customers pocket to have a level of engagement with them, Wesley said.

She also encouraged pharma marketers to think out of the box and embrace some of the viral videos that have brought companies like Samsung, T-Mobile, and Coca-Cola global audiences on YouTube in the past several years (For more from Kay Wesley, see eMarketing: How to flourish in the digital world).

Tribal blog leaders

Silja Chopuet, owner and CEO of whydot.com and author of the blog and Twitter feed www.whydotpharma.com, encouraged pharma companies to think strategically about social media, even if they dont launch a site themselves.

Social networks can seem like an unintelligible mass of loosely connected and sprawling lines, each on par with the next.

The truth is that most disease areas have distinguished bloggers who lead the conversation. Chopuet calls these bloggers tribe leaders.

One example is Jan Geissler, a German telecommunication manager who was diagnosed with a rare cancer and received a bleak diagnosis.

Undeterred, he went online and found in an Asian online forum a clinical trial for his rare disease that was taking place an hour from where he lived in Germany.

He enrolled and was cured.

That inspired him to create Leukamie Online, an international forum that discusses leukemia.

He then launched CML Advocates, which unites 300 patient organizations for the rare cancer Geissler suffered from.

He went from being a German patient to an international opinion leader in his disease area with the sole use of social media, Chopuet told the audience at the eMarketing conference.

Pharmaceutical companies could consider trying to create social networks that rival one of Geisslers in their own disease areas, Chopuet continued.

Or they could reach out to the appropriate tribe leaderstheres one for virtually every therapy areaand ask them what they need and how to gain trust and respect from their community of patients.

If they like what youre giving them and think its of value, its going to spread, Chopuet said.