The notion of using social media in regulated industries like pharmaceuticals or consumer packaged healthcare goods can be intimidating. There are plenty of challenges that will need to be addressed, like adverse events and off-label use (here is a larger list). These are not new challenges, and there are already procedures in place to deal with these issues. Although some research indicates these may not be as prevalent as one might think. The FDA recently held hearings on the topic, there is no clear consensus regarding the outcome. Clearly this should be something you monitor.
There are also organizational challenges. By its very nature social media cuts across organizational lines, for example public relations, customer service, legal, innovation, marketing are just a few areas affected (you can probably think of others).
So how does one begin? Move cautiously, here are some ways you can ease into the social media scene.
First, if you are not already get involved in social media get involved. Sign up for a few of the more popular social media tools like Twitter or Facebook. One tool I highly recommend is Delicious, a social bookmarking tool. Using this tool will facilitate the sharing of information as you do your research.
Next, start to monitor activity by listening. You will learn a lot about observing and paying attention to the conversation. Go to your local bookstore, there are numerous resources that provide overviews on strategies, tactics and tools. Educate yourself.
Involve others in your organization. Talk to others in PR, customer service, legal, regulatory. Understand their concerns; let them know what you are thinking. Build an internal collaboration network. This will be very important as the social media initiative gains traction in your organization.
Finally, as you begin to engage be as transparent as possible. Set the proper expectations for everyone involved. Don’t overpromise. As an example don’t talk about dialogue and conversation with consumers if you interacting with them on what amounts to a bulletin board.
Social media is not going away. That does not mean it will continue to exist in its current form. No doubt new platforms will emerge and existing ones will go away. What will remain constant? Growing consumer expectations to be involved in the marketing process.