Pharma: Are Guard Rails Useful To Our Social Media Future?

There’s a reason why there was such a great turnout for the Digital Pharma Unconference this week…Hats off to Shwen Gwee, Jason Youner of eXL pharma, and all the speakers and participants. (#DigPharm)

Before I talk about Guard Rails, here are three other good reads from fellow bloggers: Steve Woodruff’s I Was There (Digital Pharma 2009), Jonathan Richman’s Dose of Digital How Pharma Overcomplicates Social Media, and John Mack’s Pharma Marketing Blog: Pharma Social Media Crips vs. Legal/Regulatory Bloods.  Also check out the tools that Fard Jonmar and Jonathan Richman used in their social media workshop. Or Digitas Health Social Media POV given by Sarah Larcker of Digitas.

So what do we mean by Guard Rails? The Wikipedia definition reads something like this:

Guard rail, sometimes referred to as guide rail or railing, is a system designed to keep people or vehicles from (in most cases unintentionally) straying into dangerous or off-limits areas.”

So what does this have to do with Pharma and Social Media?

First, I’d be remiss not to credit Marc Monseau (JNJComm) who used this term in his presentation: “We’re doing It and So Can You. J&J’s Use of Twitter”. Creating ‘guard rails’ was part of his 7 suggestions to Pharma: 1) Create your business case, 2) Connect SM with other initiatives, 3) Establish your personality–interesting people are followed, 4) Set guides around what you will and won’t discuss…guard rails, 5) Gain legal/regulatory support for guard rails, 6) Create processes and tap into existing processes e.g. reporting AE’s, 7) Tweet, tweet, tweet. Advice from JNJMore lessons from JNJ (pictures courtesy of Steve Woodruff).  (You may also want to read a great interview with Marc Monseau: J&J On Twitter)

Guard rails can help provide a ‘safety net’ to Pharma social media tactics and those running them by helping to insure that clear and simple guidelines are set up around certain areas to help frame conversation and engagement, and to keep social media efforts on safe regulatory and legal ground…

Other key takeaways and discussion points from #DigPharm:

Is your brand a lovemark? Is it irresistible to your consumer? Does it provide the right empathy to patients? At the core of every lovemark is RESPECT. How does a Lovemarks compare to a trademark? Trademarks are ‘owned’ by marketers–Lovemarks are ‘owned’ by their consumers. (Watch the T-mobile video: “Life’s For Sharing”)

What are consumers saying about your prescription product? Check out to read patient reviews. Monitor other social media venues.

“A patient is an unwilling customer”.  They are ‘buying’ your medication to help their condition, but they’re not happy about the disease/condition that they have, often for life…(courtesy of patient blogger and tweeter: @amblass) This was part of 5 suggestions for Pharma: 1) listen 2) be honest 3) think big- beyond marketing a product 4) a patient is an unwilling customer. 5) be there for me.

“Just like soccer, Social Media is about moving the ball up the field….until we can put the ball in a strategic, favorable position” (courtesy of Fabio Gratton of Ignite Health and Xavier Petit)

BTW, if you’re looking for a community to continue the Pharma Social Media conversation, join Shwen’s Social Pharmer.

Other recent Pharma conference blogs that may be of interest:

Pharma: Dip Your Toes And Other Tips From DTC Perspectives Conference

Pharma Marketers: A Few Takeaways From the PharmaMed Conference

4 thoughts on “Pharma: Are Guard Rails Useful To Our Social Media Future?

  1. Great review and input to the discussion Ellen! You really brought me into a serious question to think about how to create guidelines to pharma’s use of twitter..It somehow implies the acknowledgement that there must be some do’s and don’ts to pharma’s tweets, beyond warranting for legal and regulatory checks. But how to initiate and apply them.
    Guard lines seem the thing to do, but I think we must do specific tests in concrete cases to test how they will work, otherwise it is just a way of trying to convince that the twitterati are doing their best. So, what are characteristics of guard lines beyond guidelines that will do the trick, maybe is the crucial element? Let’s search for them in specific cases. So, with this, wouldn’t we invite pharma people to come forward and apply for a test case?
    I would be in!

    • Rob

      Thank you for your comments. I think that’s a great idea to invite pharma people to provide specific suggestions that can work across brands and companies, and to dialogue with other pharma marketers and perhaps regulatory/legal folk in the process. To your point, the more specificity, the more ‘guard rails’ we discuss, the more it will be useful in helping to move the pharma SM ball towards the GOAL…Ellen

  2. Thanks — and great thoughts on all of this. Certainly when creating a program, it is important to empower someone — or a team of people — to move quickly and providing guidance around what the scope of what they can say without going through a complex approval proccess (the guard rails) is a key component of success. I have to admit, though, that while we’ve had the guardrails concept for a long period of time, I stole the word “guardrail” from someone else! :-)

    • Marc,

      Thanks for your comments. While you may have ‘stolen’ the idea of ‘guardrail’ from someone else…you/J&J are using it! And it can serve as a helpful model for others in pharma to think about as they move forward with their own SM programs in healthcare. How does it feel to be a ‘poster child’ for SM success! Again, great presentation and work…Ellen

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