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The state of online pharma communities

The numbers tell a dismal story for pharma industry. After gaining ground last year in adopting community best practices, this year’s report data reveals stagnation. In 2012, 23 of the 32 best practices had less than 50 percent adoption. Thirteen of the best practices had less than 30 percent adoption—most notably, advocate programs, mobile apps, leader boards, offline engagement, community management, forums, rewards and recognition,content tagging and content.  Mobile, for example, can be a powerful delivery channel for resources, tools and checklists for the health care consumer but few brands offer mobile options.

There are two exceptions when it comes to mobile:

  • Merck offers a Journey for Control app that helps those with type  2 diabetes track nutrition, exercise, medications and access healthy  lifestyle resources.
  • Pfizer ported its Heart Wise community to a Lipitor app that gives
Lack of content customization is particularly troubling in this highly-regulated industry that still fears true engagement.
Most pharma brands use community as a push channel and limit true interaction, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing or mentoring. Content customization is a way for health consumers to easily find and bookmark information, resources and tools that would help them monitor progress, track symptoms, prepare for a doctor’svisit and cope.
While pharmaceutical companies are prevented from giving treatment advice, they can provide disease management information in a branded forum.Still, some bright spots were evident:
• Eli Lilly integrates its blog platform, Lilly Pad, with social media. Tweets  from its Twitter channel, as well as its Facebook button, are featured  in the side rail of the blog. It’s also integrated with Goggle+, LinkedIn,  Pinterest, and subscribers can use RSS feeds to be notified of new  content. While table stakes in most industries, it is forward thinking in  the pharma sector.
• Novartis’ CML Earth community uses a gamification engine to drive its  mission around learning about the cause, risk factors and epidemiology  of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). Points are awarded for completing  a CML journey, contributing stories and engaging with various  community assets. In addition, emoticons let members reflect their  mood. The fact that this community seeks and displays real UGC in a  health care community puts it in rare company.

Most pharmas “brand-handle” their member stories by over-editing and using a corporate  brand voice instead of enabling the genuine VOC inject “heart and soul”  into the brand asset.


Pfizer’s Get Old community takes an interesting content approach.  Members can choose color-coded “post-It” notes to indicate their  attitude about aging. That same mechanism serves as a tagging  function for content and experience, and helps call out new content.  The site aggregates content and offers a faceted search based on the  person’s age and “emotion.” However, centering on age as a driving  factor of experience is insensitive to the reality that people age  differently—a better center point would be interests, needs and life  events.


While basically a good “lifestyle” model for health care brands,  the lack of social sophistication in the industry is evident.The industry would benefit from studying and judiciously adopting some of the more innovative ways that other industries interact and build band affinity through their community models. Taking a cue from the food industry, a diabetes community, for example, could use crowd sourcing torate recipes for yum factor and family “likes,” and also have a registered dietitian badge select recipes as “nutritionist approved.” The pharma sector bears watching for signs of social maturation.



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2 thoughts on “The state of online pharma communities

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