Thursday, June 04, 2009

Case Study: Novartis CML Earth

Source: KRU Research

Novartis deserves credit for jumping into the social media space with a very unique site, CML Earth. Its purpose and audience:

CML Earth is a global interactive social network dedicated to connecting the CML community from around the world. We invite patients, patient groups, and healthcare professionals to join us in building this new online community.

This is an instance of a condition-focused social network which enables patients and their care givers to provide support and information.


The Design

In keeping with the name, the main interface to the site is a beautiful image of the Earth itself and member location is prominent. Like other web mapping program, you can zoom in and out and scroll to different locations. Small circles show where other members live. Most impressive, the site provides support for nine languages.

Like other social networks users can sign-up and enter their name, birth date, and location. But when it comes to telling “more about me” you are forced to select from a series of drop-down menus. Instead of just writing who I love, I have to pick from a list that includes my parents, my kids, etc.


This forced entry system is even stranger as it applies to telling your story. When answering “What I look forward to” you must choose from a pre-set list that includes items like “just being” or “laughing last.”

This forced set of choices for your personal information is so awkward there must be a good explanation for it. I would have guessed that it was so nobody had to screen the entries in the open ended fields, but in fact there is a final open text box that lets you write whatever you want. I just don’t get it.

The main purpose of social networks, or course, is to connect with others. You can see in the image below that you can get profile information on other members and, similar to Facebook “flair”, you can send members signs of encouragement by sending smiles, hugs and high-fives.


When it comes to communicating with another member for some reason it doesn’t seem like too many users have activated that feature. You can go through a lot of members before finding someone who is willing to accept an email from you.

Guidelines and the Adverse Events Problem

When it comes to social media, health marketers often worry about things like spam, adverse event reporting, and negative comments regarding their brand. Novartis handles this with strict and clearly stated policy.

Refrain from sharing any treatment information or names of specific medicines or companies; Do not include any profanity or indecent or inappropriate language, whether in text or image; Do not embed any links in your profile.

So how does Novartis handle the dreaded adverse events reporting problem? Easily-they don’t allow them. They inform users:

CML Earth is not the place to report adverse events. If you wish to report a suspected adverse reaction to a Novartis product, click here.

The Business

Many companies are trying to make online patient communities a business, but in that regard most are struggling or failing (eg, Trusera). I suggest that online communities are a valuable tool, but just hard to monetize. To be sustainable online patient communities will have to

1) be directly sponsored, like Novartis CML Earth

2) be indirectly sponsored, like JDRF’s Juvenation which is sponsored by Novo Nordisk

3) be hosted on a public platform, like McNeil’s ADHD Moms on Facebook

4) be an add-on to an existing health information business

I don’t know what Novartis’ goals are for the site but I’ll bet they’ll exceed them. They have clear corporate branding-no hiding in the footer here-and rather than going for mass adoption they seem to be using this site as a tool to offer the community. It’s certainly going to be something to talk about when they are with physicians, and will earn good will among CML patients.

Areas for Improvement

Some things definitely jumped out at me during the review:

1) Optimize for search engines-there is almost a complete lack of SEO effort thus far on the site. Keywords are limited to “cml” and “cmlearth”. This is such an obvious oversight that I would think they are purposely trying to fly under the radar, yet they are buying Google adwords to drive traffic.

2) Tell the world-Novartis should issue a press release and upload their demo video to YouTube. Two simple actions that would drive awareness and a positive image for the company.

3) Ditch the canned responses in profile-enough said.

4) Add low-bandwidth or mobile version-the site is beautiful and uses a novel, geographical driven primary interface. But I wonder how accessible this site is in low-bandwidth countries in other parts of the world, and as many people do their social surfing from the mobile phones, a lightweight mobile version or iphone app is in order too.

5) Provide content-one key that most private networks are ignoring is to provide a library of content. Even though the point is to connect members, a simple library of content-rich articles provides added value, makes the site stickier, and Google loves it too!


Novartis deserves high marks for jumping into the social network world with a very innovative, slick design. They deftly handle the AE issue with a clear policy. Hopefully they will open up the member profile data, make it mobile friends and do more to promote CML Earth to the rest of the world.

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