The rise of social media continues to shape expectations on how and where people communicate as well as what constitutes meaningful and compelling exchanges. At the foundation of this lies the distinction between didactic information and dialectical discourse (e.g., the Socratic method). Does one learn best through a professorial lecture or through dynamic interaction with the material? For pharma marketers, this distinction continues to be important as we seek to more deeply understand our audiences, their preferences for learning, and the best communication approaches to support behavioral changes.

Consumer/Patients and Behavior Change

Nowhere is this issue more relevant than in the ways consumers and patients interact with social media. Social media dominates where patients seek information and real-world experiences that relate to medical conditions and their treatments. Marketers must be cognizant not only of topical areas of interest, appropriate tone, and level of medical/scientific detail; they also need to consider ways in which information and opinion are shared among the group. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest each have their own idiosyncratic ways in which “dialogue” unfolds. And, groups within each platform have latent, but clear rules of engagement, which help guide these conversations.

To effectively speak within the group, a thorough immersion is critical. A post that is not in sync with these factors is doomed to be, at best ignored or, more commonly, criticized and shunned by the group. And this is a scenario at odds with marketers’ goals.

For example, on one disease support discussion board we found patients who were actively looking for a more definitive “voice” in their treatment. The discussions were saturated with other patients’ personal opinions and experiences on approaches to managing the disease, but these were often dangerously askew from established science and medical practice. In this environment, we used a series of neutral but informative responses pointing viewers to respected medical and industry sites for clear, actionable information. Responses to these posts were positive and led to ongoing, more grounded discussions of treatment options.

In another example, patients were seeking emotional support and resources to help them navigate their disease journey. Here, as one not suffering from the disease, we did not seek to integrate into the community, but rather pointed members toward sources where they could find additional support. However, the transparency of indicating the post came from a pharma brand led to greater acceptance of subsequent posts to the group. So, our “introduction” to the group had the right tone and level of detail, which allowed us to make later posts that were more conversational and integrative than our initial ones.

HCPs and Decision-making

For medical professionals, their training has been based on a mixture of both didactic and dialectic approaches. Dense lectures and memorization—coupled with “on-the-job” assessment of various management scenarios—comprise most of their schooling. This mixture carries forward into their professional careers, where they expect both a plethora of information to be provided to them, but then expect forums for thoughtful questions and criticism. Too often, marketers tend to provide HCPs with product information framed as a “narrative,” which convinces them of its appropriate use. In practice, HCPs don’t want to be dictated to, but instead want to be left with the sense of their own independent decision making. A sales representative and MSL can have this type of back-and-forth exchange with the HCP; however, this approach can even be realized in non-personal promotion.

One example that we have used (and which has proven to be highly successful) is to take a staple of pharma communications—the KOL video—and turn it into a non-didactic panel discussion. In this format, three experts come to the table with various (and differing) opinions on the appropriate use of Product X. By providing three potential vectors into the use of the product, the HCP viewer is able to “selectively” choose elements from one or more of the speakers in a way that feels natural and congruent with how they view patient management.

Likewise, we have applied this principle to the case study approach, where three physicians review one case study and each offers his/her respective take on the appropriate course of treatment for the patient. By providing alternate and differing viewpoints on patient management, we empower HCPs to choose elements from each approach that best align with their own patient assessment and treatment methodologies.

Non-Personal Conversation

The above briefly outlines approaches and considerations for driving conversation in the digital/non-personal worlds. In the consumer/patient examples, we showed how appropriate interactions stimulate back-and-forth dialogue on social sites. For HCPs, we can conduct the same approach but can also stimulate internal dialogue/critical thinking among content viewers by presenting them with multiple perspectives, from which they can choose what resonates. Both examples are driven by the idea that people engage more with content when they have the opportunity to engage with it—a truism, but one not often enough followed.


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