I am often asked for examples of how pharma can engage in social media today. Let’s just gloss over the industry’s general reluctance to do so and the refrain about lack of FDA guidance. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and that is why I’d like to commend EMD Serono. I stumbled a semi-social site they funded called How I Fight MS. It provides a nice example of both engaging patient opinion leaders and integrating social tools. The site features five MS bloggers, each with his/her own story to share through writing, video, photos, and music. I was intrigued because one of the five bloggers is Lisa Emrich, well known in the MS community through her blog Brass and Ivory and someone I have interviewed before on this blog. (2009, Activated Patients and Why Pharma Should Care) Lisa was nice enough to talk to me about the her experience working on this site. She was initially approached by EMD Serono’s agency via email with what sounded like an interesting proposition – they wanted to create a site where MS bloggers could gather to discuss living with the disease. Critical to Lisa’s decision to sign on was that the site would be unbranded. While she is passionate about educating others about MS, she is not interested in becoming a spokesperson for a particular drug or treatment. That worked in her favor on this project because one stipulation of participation was that bloggers not discuss drugs or frequency of treatment (which would clearly identify the drug they were on). Another requirement was that all content go through a review process prior to posting. While this slowed the pace of adding new videos or posts, Lisa noted that she was never asked to alter her content in any way. The only thing she noticed on a couple of videos was that a message to “talk to your doctor about symptoms you are experiencing” was added.
The site has limitations and that’s why I call it semi-social. For example, readers are not allowed to leave comments and Lisa is not able to embed the videos she creates for How I Fight MS on her own blog. Still EMD Serono tried something new by using patient bloggers and incorporating social media so let’s give credit where it’s due. Plus, Lisa feels the site has been helpful for patients, particularly those who are newly diagnosed, based on the many personal messages she receives. “Patients and caregivers really appreciate the videos so they can see and hear what living with MS is like. It has helped them come to terms with this new diagnosis and have hope for the future.”