Friday, May 08, 2009

Shire launches facebook application, "Virtual Walk", in partnership with Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America

And so the race to facebook application domination is on. A few weeks ago the news spread about another major pharmaceutical company launching a facebook application "MS Champtions", and now Shire has announced their own facebook appplication, "The Virtual IBD March on the Hill", where they have partnered with the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) and are using Facebook to help raise awareness of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) while also raising money for research (for each "step", Shire apparently will donate $1 to the CCFA, up to $30,000).

In this application, Facebook users are brought into a virtual environment where they can march around the National Mall in Washington, DC., and by placing a shoe on the road they can see how their single step has affected the total number of steps taken towards the "hill", which I assume is a symbolic milestone or finish line (not sure what happens once they reach 30,000 -- will they yank the application? Probably not).

For each of the first 30,000 steps taken, Shire will donate $1 per footstep to CCFA. What does Shire get out of it? Well, they make the ulcerative colitis treatment Lialda. So that means they have an important stake in the category, and even if they're not directly mentioning the brand in this effort, audiences are not stupid and I am certain more than a few will want to learn WHY Shire is donating all this money to this cause. Not to mention, the media will help connect the dots (like I just did).Finding the Application Is a Journey Itself

Tricky part might be finding the application. You will not see it when you search for "Shire", nor "virtual walk", "ibd", "ibd march", etc... The only way you'll find it is if you look for the "CCFA". But when you actually land on the application's homepage, you will neither see a description of what the application does or a mention of Shire -- but fear not, you need to install it first before you can really understand what is unique and interesting about the app. But I will make it easy for you, go to: and you will be on the app's landing page where you can easily install it.

As usual, my hat's off to Shire for taking its own step in the right direction. For now, it appears the application is quite active and I'm sure the $30,000 will be donated in short order. It's possible too that Shire is simply sponsoring the application, and that they actually played little or no role in the idea or its developement. I am sure folks "in the know" will eventually help us understand.

The most disappointing part of all of this is that the application itself, while providing some unique and interactive features, falls a little short when it actually comes time to participate in the "virtual walk". In essence, you pick a shoe and then watch it bounce its way across the screen as the Washington D.C. landscape scrolls by in the background. That said, there are a few other features (e.g., "share your story", leaderboard of "invites" and "recruits") that make the site much more interesting, dynamic, and useful.
Now I am not an official "health facebook app critic", but I will say this: the "MS Champions" application by EMD Serono/Pfizer launched a few weeks ago was certainly a more unique, visually appealing, and interactive application -- primarily due to its unique Google mashup interface. But where MSC wins points for creativity, Shire's virtual walk wins points for the partnership with CCFA and the donations being made on their behalf. Selfishly, they also win major points for helping this entire industry take yet another step forward when it comes to the social media arena. There is certainly an increasing focus and understanding that by leveraging social media technologies a company can genuinely help meet the needs of customers, and perhaps even educate about their brands (OK, fine, I lied. We're not there yet on the brand part).

Just keep repeating to yourself: crawl, walk, run... crawl, walk, run ... and I think we'll be OK.

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