Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing: Being a Critical Resource
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Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing: Making Your Company an Invaluable Information Resource

Over the years, pharmaceutical digital marketing activities have enabled them to adopt a different approach to reaching patients, caregivers and physicians alike. Beyond direct-to-consumer television ads and email sends, many organizations have branched out to incorporate new channels within their existing marketing strategies. To be certain, companies have developed a number of innovative branded and unbranded pharma digital marketing solutions using a multitude of platforms. For example, companies have launched Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels geared toward specific audiences as a means to generate campaign awareness and promote consumer education. However, with the growth of the technological age and digital capabilities, correcting misinformation can be just as much of a challenge as disseminating company and product information.

Discussion surrounding medical misinformation across the Internet has arisen at many digital marketing conferences and is an issue to which many industry executives can attest. When it comes to misinformation, companies had previously questioned where their lines of responsibility started and ended. FDA’s draft guidance — currently available for comments — makes clear that pharmaceutical companies online responsibilities lie concretely within the digital spaces for which they have oversight. However, with more and more consumers consulting the Internet prior to doctor visits, several executives emphasize the need to establish solid, reliable information that consumers can leverage for better health outcomes — beyond what regulations have required.

Despite Pharma’s efforts to leverage social media platforms, oftentimes the most frequently consulted resource is the most overlooked: Wikipedia.  Maybe this website — which has countless editors and readers worldwide — is not the most reputable of sources. For certain, most college professors or scholarly journals won’t accept Wikipedia citations as part of an academic paper. However, this forum remains a starting point for individuals seeking to learn more about a vast variety of topics. And its a lot more accessible to most healthcare consumers than perusing the Encyclopaedia Britannica or aimlessly wandering from Internet page to Internet page to determine a viable starting point for further research.

According to a recent report produced by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, Wikipedia is the leading informational resource for patients and healthcare providers alike. Consequently, Wikipedia presents a good opportunity for pharma companies looking to establish themselves as information outlets. Likewise, pharmaceutical executives are well aware of the power of the Internet. In its recent pharmaceutical digital marketing study, Cutting Edge Information asked industry experts about their perception of digital marketings impact on marketing campaigns. One executive answered with another question: “What do patients typically do once finding out they may start a new treatment?”

Ultimately, healthcare audiences seek answers online. But (spoiler alert) most consumers are not actively seeking out a branded or unbranded company website to clarify their concerns. Instead, Wikipedia is usually one of the top, if not the top, search return.

In light of this, Dr. Bertalan Mesko penned an open letter to the pharma industry in 2012, encouraging the industry to increase its presence on Wikipedia. This letter has since prompted many articles providing similar levels of encouragement. Some tips are relatively common sense. Mesko himself advises companies to select a single point person to act as the company voice. Other articles advise individuals seeking to become Wikipedia editors to disclose any conflicts of interests and — in a nod toward transparency — to flag potentially incorrect brand information for review rather than editing it themselves.

Yet despite support from key organizations like PhRMA, Wikipedia involvement remains a slow-going process for the industry as a whole. A recent piece by John Mack highlights the progress of pharmaceutical companies since Dr. Mesko first wrote his letter. Although two years have passed, no drug companies have taken the final step to establish liaisons between their organizations and Wikipedia.

As it would seem, its easier said than done because change is not instantaneous across the industry. Moreover, even with recently released guidance, regulations are, as of yet, not finalized. Some industry executives fear that their Wikipedia presence may subject them to additional FDA oversight. Yet perhaps the final guidance — due July 10 of this year — will be just the push the industry needs to take Dr. Mesko up on his offer.

Eric Bolesh
Senior Director of Product Development
919-433-0209
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