What a difference six months can make in the fast moving world of the social web! At last May’s Advanced Learning Institute’s conference on “Social Media for Pharma” there was a lot of anxiety, hand wringing and concern about the future of social media in the life sciences industry.
Things were much different at “Social Media for Pharma” (also sponsored by the Advance Learning Institute) held earlier this week in Manhattan. Like last May’s meeting, there was still much speculation about when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may provide the much awaited regulatory guidance on the use of social media for promotional purposes in the pharmaceutical industry. And, despite a presentation by FDA representatives at the meeting—that somewhat paradoxically described how the agency was using social media tools like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to better educate and inform the American public about its activities and services —there were no hints about when the agency may issuing that guidance. Nevertheless, the number of pharma and biotechnology companies that have decided to “take the plunge into the social media pool” has grown substantially since last May. In fact, I got the sense that many of the conference participants were beginning to believe that implementing social media strategies was possible even if the agency fails to issue the long awaited guidance!
Generally speaking, there was a growing consensus at the meeting that the use of social media for promotional purposes—specifically to bolster sales of approved and marketed drugs and devices—may not be its best use. Several presentations, most notably those offered by Justin Gardener and Lindsey Hart from Advanced BioHealing, Inc and Jenny Keeney from Astellas Pharma US, Inc showed how social media can be used by life sciences companies to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and promote science education to improve the public understanding of science. Nancy Buono Cartwright from Kaiser Permanente gave a great talk on how to use social media to enhance corporate communication and employee participation and retention.
A panel discussion featuring Dennis Urbaniak, Sanofi Aventis, Cynthia Phillips, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc and Justin Gardner, Advanced BioHealing, Inc and lead by John Mack aka the Pharma Guy was insightful and extremely illuminating regarding pharma’s changing attitudes toward social media. All of the panelists agreed that the drug industry is in transition and that now may be the time to try new things to get back to addressing unmet medical and patient needs. More importantly, Dennis Urbaniak stressed that pharma must begin to listen to what patients and stakeholders want rather than dictating or imposing “its” ideas and products on them. And, that it is apparent that social media provides an ideal vehicle to accomplish that goal.
Finally, Doug Levy, a compliance lawyer and Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs Columbia Medical Center, gave an inspiring talk on how social media is no different than traditional modes of communication and that best practices already exist whether or not FDA ever issues any additional guidance on the topic! It appears that it is no longer a question of “if” but “when” as pharma continues to warm to inevitability of social media.
Until next time…
Good Luck and Good Tweeting or Whatever Your SM Tool of Choice May Be