Public relations firm v-Fluence recently conducted a study to assess how consumers search online for branded cholesterol drugs and where they go as a result of those searches. This was a follow-up study to one they conducted in 2006. There is no doubt that the world of social media has garnered greater influence in two short years. For example, the research shows that the number of blogs referencing brand name treatments more than doubled between 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, the growth rate in the number of brand-relevant discussion forums increased as much as 500%, depending on the specific brand. The data suggest that blogs and discussion forums are becoming more visible to consumers searching for specific brands as well as treatments related to the therapeutic category. I connected with v-Fluence v.p. Lance Helgeson who provided me with more insights. He made the point that while the numbers of search returns for social media sites are still relatively small, their influence appears to be disproportionately large. "Due to the popularity of a given blog or forum, the dynamics of Web 2.0, the degree to which influencers (like reporters) pay attention to them, and their increasing encroachment into Web 1.0 search results, their influence can be profound."
And, importantly, that influence may not be positive. Bloggers and social networkers are quite open about their feelings and experiences (privacy is not a big deal in these spaces) so there is plenty of negative sentiment expressed.
Yet the study also found, not surprisingly, that pharma marketers don't pay much attention to the content on these sites. Even worse, some pharma brands place ads on the same sites that vilify them! Jay Byrne, the president of v-Fluence, didn't mince words: "When brand marketing content can be found in these spaces—mostly in the form of online advertising—it is largely inappropriate, non-responsive and at times detrimental to the brand’s interests in these spaces.”
As Lance aptly put it, "Pharmaceutical companies have yet to engage this potentially reputation-damaging content."
My question is: What are we waiting for?