There is a tendency to judge a the social media savvy of biopharma companies by simply tallying the sum total of their online presence. Got a Twitter feed? A You Tube channel? Great: you’re in the top tier.
But simply hanging a shingle in the more genteel corners of the social media doesn’t automatically mean translate into influence or eyeballs. A couple hundred subscribers to a YouTube channel falls somewhat short of a revolution. That’s not to say that incremental progress isn’t important. Nor does it mean there aren’t folks out there who aren’t making waves using these tools. Take Kevin Pho, an internist in New Hampshire, who has turned his oft-updated blog into a daily must-read for thousands and garnered a regular spot on the USA Today op-ed page. That’s the world we live in today: one doc, posting in his spare time, has an online footprint that dwarfs most Fortune 500 companies.
It’s not breaking new ground to suggest that companies should take some time getting to know these new influencers; tech-forward companies have been doing it for years, and health care giant Johnson & Johnson has gathered a handful of bloggers for dinner at least a couple of times.
But, this summer, Roche took a bold step in health care social media by bringing a couple dozen diabetes bloggers to their Indianapolis campus. This was a stroke of genius: diabetes has one of the largest and most cohesive online communities, a group of motivated individuals all dedicated the kind of constant vigilance need to thrive with diabetes. They enlisted the help of Amy Tenderich, who writes the site diabetesmine.com, and managed to bring a select and diverse gang to Indiana. There were leaders of online communities (Manny Hernandez), writers who looked at the business angles (Kelly Close), longtime online diabetes journalists (David Mendoza), and many, many more.
But Roche shouldn’t get full credit just for flying folks to their confab for a song-and-dance routine. They listened. Especially when the assembled crowd started asking tough questions about the economics of diabetes test strips. Reading the blog coverage afterward, it was pretty clear that the Roche line on test strips didn’t resonate with everyone. But that didn’t matter: the company had heard them out, and that clearly generated oodles of goodwill.
And that’s goodwill that’s hard to come by through 140-character tweets or even the occasional corporate blog post. It’s rare that Bob Pearson gets through a blog entry without extoling the value of listening, and it’s worth remembering that — even in a wired world, dealing with wired influencers — sometimes it’s easier to listen when you’re sitting face-to-face.