Friday, April 30, 2010

What Pharma Should Like (and Dislike) About Facebook’s New “Like” Feature

authored by
Ross Fetterolf, SVP Brand Strategy and Channel Innovation
Michael Spitz, Senior Digital Strategist
Ignite Health

In case you haven’t heard, the biggest news in social media this week is “Like.” No, it’s not the return to 80’s valley girl speak that some of us have been looking forward to for decades—according to Facebook, “Like” is their new feature that promises to change the web through a technology called “Open Graph”. At their latest development conference (click here for a webcast of the live event), Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the new “Like” feature pushes us one step closer to the promise of Web 3.0, the semantic Web. For those of you in the Pharma community who don’t know whether or not to like “Like,” the Ignite strategy team wanted to offer up some thoughts that present a compelling story for each side of the argument. Here goes…

Why Pharma Should Like “Like” Ross’s POV

A small snippet of code can now turn even the most traditional of sites into a social experience. Real Pharma social media has never felt so attainable as the day when Facebook “Like” was introduced. Here’s why:

Get By with a Little “Like” from Your Friends

  • The new “Like” feature turns the Web into a shared experience, so I can immediately see which people in my social circle (i.e., Facebook friends) have visited an online property, and what they found interesting or helpful within that site. Imagine going to a website to learn about a new medication and finding out that one of your friends “liked” it. Powered with this information, I am now one step closer to making a treatment decision—and can reach out to my friend to learn more.

I Think You Two Might “Like” Each Other

  • So maybe none of your friends is taking the product you are considering, or reading the same disease information you came across. Well according to “Like”—there are people out there that are. Who are those people? Maybe they are people that should be part of your social circle, people you should be connecting with. Pharma has been experimenting with the creation of product user communities for a long time now—the first example of this was Roche’s Pegassist Buddy program—that connected users of their product to communicate in a setting outside the jurisdiction of the Pharma company through a simple exchange of e-mail addresses. And while Pegassist Buddies have come and gone, new efforts have emerged which are aimed at generating the same kind of peer-to-peer interaction—programs like the Tysabri Mentor Program.

  • Facebook “Like” essentially does the same thing—connecting users of a product or with an interest in a disease state, so they can discuss their own experiences in an “off-brand” setting. This feature alone could give a new sense of relevancy to Pharma brand sites, which could not only serve as the official destination for prospective patients to learn about a product, but also the place where they could go to virtually meet other patients who are using a product and are satisfied/dissatisfied with its results. A connection to shared experiences – all powered by a simple click of the “Like” button – social behavior has never been so simple…

Learning Users Likes and Dislikes

  • Aside from the ability of “Like” to connect the user to others inside or outside their social circle, how about the ability for the Pharma Company to simply learn more about the content preferences of their users? We’ve piloted this basic concept on disease education sites in the form of the ability to rate content, and it has been a great way to really learn what content our users find valuable, and even determine which content isn’t as helpful. “Like” introduces a layer of user feedback on top of your site that should enable future content decisions, shaping the user experience to be most beneficial to your audience – the inherent goal in any eMarketing effort.

Why Pharma Should Dislike "Like" Spitz's POV

Although the new and revolutionary Facebook Open Graph technology will synergize the digital experience for millions of users as Ross describes, this communications model creates immediate and potentially intractable dilemmas for Pharma. Here’s why:

Mr. Zuckerberg Goes to Washington

  • Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement of this new model was genuinely exciting—so much so that several senators, led by Charles Schumer of New York, organized themselves to take action regarding potential privacy violations. "We look forward to the FTC examining this issue,” stated the group. “But in the meantime, we believe Facebook can take swift and productive steps to alleviate the concerns of its users."

  • The problem here is two-fold: On the one hand, Open Graph will make participating Facebook users’ personal information available to numerous and unspecified third-party businesses; on the other, the technology automatically pulls this data unless users voluntarily and proactively choose to opt-out—far from an obvious process. The special risk to Pharma websites is obvious, as private information regarding an individual’s treatment preferences is made available to unseen marketers and who knows who else.

Do You Want ISI with That?

  • Pulling information from a consumer website and making it available on Facebook (as demonstrated by the screenshot from Ross’ own Facebook page below) might work well for jeans or other unregulated products, but the social media guidance so important for Pharma marketers has yet to be mandated. Imagine this functionality made available on a typical for a drug—would the same rules of fair balance apply within the “Like” box embedded in the news stream on Facebook as the original content on the itself? To what extent? Who is held accountable?

Adverse Event Commenting

  • And that brings up the third potential problem—what about the comment feature below the Facebook “Like” box? How would your brand manager or eMarketing director feel when visitors to your branded websites are able to post text and graphics featuring your heavily regulated drug on Facebook pages, enabling and encouraging their friends and family to openly and enthusiastically comment on them? Should one of them post an adverse event, then who would be held accountable? How would the Pharma Company be able to monitor potentially thousands, if not millions, of individual Facebook pages?

Conclusion: “Like,” What’s Not to Like?

The new Facebook “Like” feature might sound like an exciting and affordable way to reach millions of additional people with your brand messaging, but the privacy, regulatory, and AE concerns are unexplored and potentially severe—not to mention the inherent threats to your brand’s reputation.

That said, despite the remaining unknowns and inherent risks of Facebook’s new communications model, the opportunities for marketing specialists—including those in Pharma—are so exciting and powerful that Open Graph cannot and should not be ignored. The onus therefore rests on us as digital experts to educate our teams, mitigate the risks, and utilize this exciting technology for the benefit of our clients and the healthcare professionals and patients they serve.

So now you’ve heard our thoughts on “Like”—but we’d like to hear yours. So drop us a line in the comments section (and please, no jokes about Ross’s skinny jean experimentation, that’s not what social media is all about—or is it?)

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