Social Media and the Five Cs

When marketers conduct a strategic analysis, they often use a framework called the 5 Cs: Customers, Competition, Collaborators, Context and Company. In considering whether the pharma industry is taking full advantage of social media, it’s constructive to look at the landscape through this framework.

Customers: Read any analyst report, trade publication or blog post and there it is—confirmation that, yes, patients are actively using social media for everything: Self-diagnosis, treatment research and sharing stories with friends, family and strangers. Even physician usage of social media is steadily rising, both on public platforms and closed physician-only communities. In short: Everyone is looking online.

Competition: Competition is defined here as any potential source of information on your products and services other than your own corporate channels. Customers don’t go straight to these websites for information on products or the diseases they treat. Rather, customers look to peers, Wikipedia and random forum dwellers before going to a pharma website. The competition runs the gamut: From large content generators to hometown bloggers, to thoroughly researched information, to inaccuracies and stereotypes. The landscape is diverse and fractured, meaning that opportunities exist for publishers to earn trust through content creation.

Collaborators: Usually defined as distribution partners, I classify collaborators as social networks, including global platforms, niche and disease-state-specific networks. Many choices are available for marketers to consider, complicated slightly by the fact that new sites seem to pop up each week and other networks are acquired or shut down. The key is to remember that customers choose platforms based on both the topic of the content and the form it takes. Be sure to consider the types of content you can support before jumping into a new platform.

Context: This is where regulation comes in: At its core, regulation is designed to protect consumers from predatory practices. As social programs need to be designed to improve the lives of patients—not push products—regulation shouldn’t be an impediment to what you want to achieve. If marketers consider ways to educate and help customers understand, connect and improve their everyday lives, then they can design successful social programs.

Company: Does your organization have the capabilities it needs to run social programs? In order to take advantage of social programs, your company needs:

  • Patient-centric thinkers to connect social initiatives to larger company/brand business objectives, laddering up to deliver bigger impact.
  • Digitally savvy strategists who understand online customers, as well as the opportunities, threats and constant changes inherent with each social platform.
  • Critically thinking medical, legal, regulatory and compliance review team members open to learning about new platforms and developing programs. They don’t need to be digital experts—just interested in understanding how customers communicate.
  • Engaged senior leadership interested in driving an organizational mindshift: New programs require new ways of thinking—and buy-in is key to getting projects underway.

When reviewed in the context of the 5 C’s, a strategic marketer can see opportunity in social media for those willing to take (calculated) risks. Consider the platforms, content and engagement that customers prefer and let that act as the guiding light for social program success.


  • Greg Cohen

    Greg Cohen is the Senior Manager for Social Media & Influence at UCB. Greg spends all day on social media to educate colleagues on social opportunities and identify trends in patient social activity. His thoughts are his own on Twitter @gcohen85.


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