Social Media, Pharma, and Cats in Sweaters

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  • 12/07/2011

Yesterday I was pleased to chair Day 1 of the Social Media for Pharma event in New York City.

First off, this and similar events can no longer (and should no longer) be identified as “pharma” events. Witnessing today’s attendance by and active participation of members of the medical technology (née “device”) community along with a full table of dietary supplement marketers, makes it pretty clear this and similar symposia are healthcare events. 

And that’s a good thing.

A few memorable moments:

Greg Kueterman and Amy O’Connor of Eli Lilly & Company gave a splendid presentation on their health policy blog Lillypad (  One of their most important points (not rocket science, but rarely discussed) is that, when it comes to healthcare in the social media space – it can be about things other than product marketing and that metrics are more than about volume.  It’s not about the top ten, but rather the right ten. Amen.

Greg asserted that he's “the Justin Bieber of healthcare social media.”  Not sure what that means, but it does seem to be an off-label claim.

William Martino (Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness) and Shermon McMillan (Chattem) – henceforth forever known as Shermon/William – painted an interesting portrait of social media and the OTC launch (and subsequent marketing) of Allegra. 

Ned Russell (Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness) pointed out that the oft-quoted FaceBook development maxim of “move fast and break things,” couldn’t be more antithetical to regulated healthcare communicators (note – not marketers, but communicators).  My comment was that this might explain the tone deafness of the world’s largest social media platform has to issues such as moderated user-generated commentaries.  (Also note that the FCC didn’t find FaceBook’s swiftness to cast aside privacy issues so kosher either.)

And, while we’re on the subject, why does FaceBook allow “drugs from Canada” pages.  Did they not get the memo from Google and the DOJ?

Tai Spargo of NORD discussed their new social media efforts in creating a plentitude of orphan disease sites minus any participation of the biopharmaceutical industry.  She also noted (and rightfully so) that there is no rare disease too small for social media.  To illustrate her point she displayed the FaceBook page “Cats in Sweaters.” Meow.

Check it out if you are so inclined at Idle hands indeed do the devil’s work.

Sharon Landa (Johnson & Johnson) and Erica Wittes Schlack (Communispace) discussed the design and utility of private (read, “closed”) social media communities.  Fascinating.  Two comments to pass along, “Feedback is about the brand, but discovery is about the consumer” (utility) and “Diversity is for conversation but similarity is for cohesion (design).

There was also much chatter about how to make social media programs work along side of “traditional communications initiatives.”

Rather than calling them “traditional,” perhaps we should label them as “legacy” programs.

And we all know what happens to those.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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