PHARMA/TECH: Should big Pharma be blogging? by Shahid Shah

In the light of the recent tattle in the pharma blogosphere of the hijacking of Cialis’ brand identity and Lilly’s apparent inability to do squat about it, Shahid Shah, who besides being a healthcare IT expert is also becoming a corporate blogging evangelist, sent me this guest submission suggesting a little more specificity about blogging on pharmaceutical and regulated products. As many THCB readers know Shahid runs theHITSphere  blog aggregator as well as his own Healthcare IT Guy blog. I also think many of his thoughts are applicable to other health care corporations concerned about blogging, such as providers and insurers. And of course I like his pitch to pharma companies to hire me to help them figure this out!

Corporate blogging is certainly not new but it hasn’t really taken off because executives are always nervous about public statements they make, especially if they run a public company. Until now only small firms, who have much to gain with direct 2-way contact with their customers, have really engaged their clients through blogs. Now, however, even the big companies as different as McDonalds and Microsoft have become corporate bloggers with different degrees of success.

The pharmaceutical industry is certainly one group of companies that could use increased goodwill that comes from direct contact with their customers. If anyone should be blogging from a corporate perspective it should be big pharma because what it does directly touches the lives of its customers in a way very few other industries do. The level of importance people give to their health and the way that they bond with their healthcare providers (and by extension the drugs they take) is very important. Most pharma companies are worried about the FDA and cite that as a big concern about why they don’t blog. But, I think that’s a mistake.

Pharma shouldn’t worry too much about what the FDA has to say specifically for blogs. Blogging does not impact anything that wouldn’t already be public anyway. For example, if a pharmaceutical firm has a call center where they answer questions about their drugs’ on-label use, a blog would be no different. In fact, drug firms can improve customer service by providing tips, tools, and guidance on how best to use their drugs. I would recommend that firms start to create blogs that start to tell stories of why scientists (in their own words) are focusing on certain diseases, how far technology has come along, how exactly drugs go from an idea to discovery to production. All these would bring customers closer to them, not alienate them. And, the FDA won’t complain about anything that doesn’t cause off-label use. I spoke with an FDA counsel this week and she basically said the same thing: anything that’s covered by existing guidance would apply to blogs, too (she didn’t provide official legal guidance, it was just a comment stating the obvious).

If a drug vendor starts a blog or discussion forum about its products and doesn’t mis-communicate about efficacy of its products or fitness for a particular purpose it shouldn’t get into trouble. Companies won’t have problems with regulators if they stick to the truth about their products and improve the way customers interact with them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be careful about what they say — but that goes for anything a company says. It’s not something special to blogging but blogging does make it easy for people to say whatever they want (like folks do in an email).

So, if you’re not blogging today don’t blame the feds. If you’re not creating corporate blogs, it’s due to a lack of vision and innovation and perhaps a lack of respect of your customers, not the FDA. Guys like me and Matthew can help you devise an appropriate strategy to allow direct communication, improved customer service, and who knows in a few years people may stop thinking of big pharma in a poor light like they do now.

Oh, and by the way, don’t think that just because you’re not blogging about your own products that nobody else is. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the blogging community. Third parties are already talking about your drugs and company in their own blogs and forums. Given the growing influence of blogs on consumers, pharmaceutical companies can not afford to dismiss comments made about their products by bloggers and must create their own presence within the blogosphere. Why not take the initiative and help navigate people to the “official” word about your drugs?

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8 replies »

  1. Freedom To Expose
    Historically, information sources provided to American citizens were limited due to the few methods available to the public, such as radio, TV, or news print. And also this information was subject to being filtered and, in some cases, delayed. This occurred for a number of reasons, which included political ones.
    Now, and with great elation, there is the internet, which can be rather beneficial for the average citizen.
    Soon after the advent of the internet, web logs were created, that are termed ‘blogs’. At that time, about a decade ago, the blogs were referred to as personal journals or diaries visible on line. As time passed, blogs became a media medium, and blog communities evolved on topics that often were not often addressed in mainstream media. In addition, blogs provide immediate contributions by others, the readers of the posts of the blog authors, instead of the cumbersomeness of opinion and editorial pieces historically and not always presented in such media forms as newspapers. The authors of blogs vary as far as their backgrounds and intent of what they present are for specificially, just as with other media forms. Furthermore, they are not exonerated from the legalities of what is written, such as cases of libel. While we can presume that they like to write, they may not be quality writers. But to write is to think, which I believe is a good quality one should have.
    Yet presently, blogs have become quite a driving force for those with objectives often opposed by others, and are a threat to others at times, such as big business and politicians- both who presently monitor the progress and content of blogs that provide instant information on events, which might affect their image and activities not yet exposed, as blogs have become a medium of disclosure by whistleblowers, and what is written is typically authentic.
    While one disadvantage of blogs is the potential lack of reliability, blogs however do allow in addition to the comments of its readers the posting of authentic documents that typically are not created to be viewed by the public. For example, blogger Dr. Peter Rost, a whistleblower himself, not long ago posted a newsletter published by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on his blog site, and this newsletter was given to him by AstraZeneca’s employees who called themselves the ‘AZ Group of Seven’, with the intent of this group being to bring to the attention of others the illegal activity of off-label promotion of one of their cancer drugs promoted by thier employer. Yet this by suprise is not what caught the attention of so many who viewed the posted newsletter read with great interest by others. It was instead a comment included in this newsletter that was stated by former regional AZ manager Mike Zubalagga, who in this newsletter posted on Dr Rost’s blog site, referred to doctors’ offices as ‘buckets of money’. This and other statements by this man were written during an interview with him by another and then published in this newsletter. Again, the statement was authentic and in writing in this newsletter, which added credibility to the proof that it actually happened.
    Mr. Zubalagga was fired the next day due to this comment and it’s potential effect on the image of his employer. His manager resigned soon afterwards.
    And there have been other whistleblower blog cases in addition to this one, so blogs have become a very powerful and threatening medium of information release that does not allow others to prevent such releases. This is true freedom of information- free of alteration or omission. One step closer to a form of communication utopia, perhaps, and with the ability to both harm and protect others.
    Yet again, the information on these blogs should not be taken as absolute truth without proof to verify claims that may be made. Of course, documents that are authentic will be realized by others, as illustrated with the above example. And this, in my opinion, is the blog’s greatest value, combined with the comments on blogs from the growing number of readers who are allowed to contribute to the subject matter so quickly, which fuels the objectives of the blogs. Like other written statements, some on such internet sites are composed with respect of the written word. Others are not. It’s the freedom that may be most appealing of this new medium which has the ability to convert citizens into journalists who want to contribute to an issue of thier concern they share with the blogger.
    Because we, the public, have a right to know what we are entitled to know and what we want to know. This is especially true if the information could potentially be adverse to our well-being.
    Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.
    “Information is the seed of an idea, and only grows when it’s watered.” — Heinz V. Berger
    Dan Abshear

  2. I always thought that blogging about pharma was vital and that the Pharmaceutical world really needs to step ahead now, with the internet technologies as they offer so many different ways of communicating to potential prospects…
    However, I think there is a big gap in terms of news/blog around Asia wheras the market is exploding!
    I’ve linked my comment to http://www.asia-manufacturing.com where there seems to be good quality news.
    Does anyone knows about a blog linked to pharma in Asia?

  3. Pharmaopportunities is a new career site and it takes time to grow. All of our email addresses work. I asked you to post your resume for so employers can find you when they search our resume database, it is not my fault that you didn’t get a job. Alot of people go with the niche boards because they are targeted and focused, posting your resume on the big boards will get your lost in the crowd. Do some research see where hires are really coming from

  4. I would be wary of any comments or suggestions made by Winston Burton. I am a consultant who responded to a posting of his on Craigs List for a position requiring pharma experience only to have him respond and solicit me to post my resume on his web site and he had the nerve to do this from a non working email address. In my opinion his methods are suspect and therefore I would not trust anything he has to say. That is how I feel, you be the judge for yourself.
    PS…. When I did a search on the reccommended site I had a maximum of 2 hits each for NY and NJ. Do yourself a favor and stick with the big dog job boards. “Premier recruitment portal” Yeah Right!.

  5. Yes I think that big Pharma should start blogging this is something we are thinking about implementing on our website http://www.pharmaopportunities.com
    Pharmaopportunities is the Internet’s premier recruitment portal for the Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Medical Device and Pharmacy industry and we feel that people should voice there opinion about what is going on in the life science and healthcare industry

  6. I enjoy reading when a new drug or procedure comes out, and the people writing the report or article then badmouth the previous drug or procedure in explaining it. It is usually possible to get very interesting information on a company’s product from various company websites. Perhaps they can do this on various company web blogs? They are competitors of course.

  7. This is a sentiment, I absolutely agree with. Shahid and I have been chatting a lot about this particular issue. Now it’s up to pharma and other healthcare companies to get on the blogging bandwagon — in a good way!