Drug companies should build their own online communities

When it comes to healthcare treatment options patients want to know what to expect and they trust each other a hell of a lot more than advertisers.  In fact 80% of respondents in a recent research study participate in online groups to help others by sharing information and experiences. and 66% participate in a professional community to belong to a group of colleagues and peers.  41% participate in groups to be seen as someone knowledgeable.  What are the implications ?

In another study by the Incyte Group it was reveled that Social networks are not the first place people go to research products and services. Google and brand websites are.

The study confirmed that the vast majority of U.S. Adult Internet users are currently using open social networks, but branded Websites are still the primary destinations for information to support a purchase decision.  When Incyte asked participants to name their primary destinations for researching products, or seeking customer service via the Internet, their top choices were:

  • Visit company Website to make a purchase decision — 89.3%
  • Visit company Website for service/support questions — 68.8%
  • Contact the company via e-mail—43.5%
  • Use an Internet community dedicated to the product/service — 27.3%
  • Use a social network—21.2%

So we know that people like helping each other and that although social networks are part of everyday online life people are not necessarily sharing their experiences especially when it comes to health information.

Can we establish an online community in drug marketing ?

The answer to that is YES.  I did when I worked at Eli Lilly and was in charge of marketing for Sarafem back in 2002.  We allowed people to post their experiences around PMDD but the posts would not go live until they were reviewed by my MLR team. Because of the importance of woman sharing their experiences my MLR team was able to approve the posts within 48 hours and we had a disclaimer that we could edit the post to eliminate not approved FDA claims.

In the first week alone we had almost 300 posts and 99% of them were positive with women sharing their experiences around PMDD and how it affected their lifestyles.  Not only were women sharing their experiences, but in a follow up survey, we found that close to 70% had asked their doctor about Sarafem. This was key because a lot of physicians did not believe that PMDD was a “medical condition” but once we shared the posts from women they quickly became believers.


The key to establishing an online community is twofold; first you need to get your legal and regulatory people on board and explain why it’s so important.  Second, you need to have someone monitor the posts as they come it and get them approved to go live.

Of course the key here was that I understood how women were in need of a medication to treat PMDD and how it was affecting their quality of life.  I also knew that women would open up and share with each other about experiences.  We allowed people to post just with their first name, although to register to post we did require a name and email so we could verify it was a real person not a troll.

While pharma continues to debate social media the answer could be right in front of them if they have the courage to think outside of the box.

4 thoughts on “Drug companies should build their own online communities

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