Today’s patient feels empowered by the easy access to the internet. A quick Google search and there’s tons of information for the patient to feast on. A Pew Research Center survey was conducted from March 7th to April 4th 2016 on 1,520 Americans with age 18 and older to measure how they cope with information demand in their lives and how they felt about the volume of information they counter. A whopping 81 percent felt confident in their ability to use the internet and keep up with information demands in their life while 79 percent felt that having a lot of information made them feel that they have more control over things in their life.(1)
The sheer volume of information on the internet can make its search overwhelming, difficult to navigate and validate. A simple query for health information can display thousands of sites thus making it difficult for people to discern whether the source of information is credible and trustworthy. A Pew Research Center survey found that people who seek health information on the internet don’t follow recommended guidelines for examining the reliability or timeliness of information. As a matter of fact, half the individuals reported checking the date and source of information only occasionally, hardly ever, or never.(2)
However, the objective of this article is not to look into how a patient can distinguish between relevant or irrelevant information, but to showcase why blogging could be an important factor as an effective medico-marketing and patient education tool.
A Brief History of Blogging
The term “blog” is short for ‘web log’. A blog is described as a discussion or informational board/page published on the internet and consisting of discrete entries known as posts. Over a period of time, the blog assumes the form of a series of articles (posts) created by a person, stored in chronological order that are searchable, and allow readers to share, like, dislike and/or comment on the created content.
In comparison to the elegant blogs that we come across daily, the earliest blogs didn’t bear any resemblance to the blogs that we see today. As a matter of fact, the term “blog” wasn’t coined until the late 1990s.
Before the concept of blogging became popular, digital communities took various forms such as Usenet (a worldwide distributed discussion system available on computers), commercial online services such as GEnie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange), BiX (Byte Information Exchange), the early CompuServe, email lists and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS – a computer server running software that allows users to connect to the system using a terminal program).(3,4)
Dave Winer is considered as one of the ‘fathers’ of blogging and is believed to have pioneered Web syndication techniques. On 7th of October, 1994 Dave published his first blog post. At that time, he named it Davenet. His blog Scripting News has been in existence since 1994 and is still present on the internet (www.scripting.com).(5,6) The emergence and growth of blogs in the late 1990s coincided with the advent of web publishing tools that facilitated the posting of content by non-technical users.
Justin Hall is another person who is widely acknowledged for creating the first blog ‘Links.net’ while he was a Swarthmore college student in 1994.7 However, the term ‘weblog’ wasn’t coined until the year 1997. Jorn Barger, editor of the influential early blog Robot Wisdom, is attributed with coining the term ‘weblog’ to describe the process of “logging the web” as he surfed.(8,9,10) Peter Merholz of Peterme.com abbreviated the term to “blog” in 1999.(5)
Ever wonder why is blogging such a craze?
A blog doesn’t require any prior technical knowledge. Server-based blogging software allows ordinary individuals to create engaging content in the form of blogs. Blogs are practical, low-cost vehicles that allow people with common interests to hold a conversation and share opinions. Most blogs provide a platform for blog visitors to directly engage with the author and interact with other individuals with shared experiences. It is an example of yet another ‘social software’ that supports the desire of individuals and organizations to be pulled into groups to achieve shared goals.
Pharma and Blogging: What’s the Connection?
Most people would cite ‘family’ and ‘health’ as two of the most valuable thoughts at the top of their mind. It is well documented that health problems are the most pressing issues in daily living. From chronic lifestyle health problems such as obesity, blood pressure and diabetes to acute health conditions such as cancer and cardiomyopathy, problems can be easily tackled/managed when healthcare stakeholders find a way to collaborate. While the pharmaceutical industry focuses on developing medicines, both doctors and patients need to access and use them effectively for them to have a positive impact on society. The true implications of collaboration can be judged by its impact in the real-world in daily life and not a clinical study setting.
Here’s where blogging helps bridge the divide. Blogging not only helps disseminate information but also stimulates a dialogue between various stakeholders within the pharmaceutical industry and the allied healthcare industry, including patients. Transcending geographical boundaries, pharma blogs can help build a web of connections all over the globe to encourage thought building and innovation.
While it will be too much of a leap to say that a humble blog could resolve pressing world health issues or could help in the immediate development of a new medicine, it will most certainly spur an idea or serve as a catalyst to help others build on it.
Running a blog provides pharmaceutical companies with an excellent platform to connect with end users (patients), educate them and create awareness of diseases, thus building brand credibility. Like any other print or digital publishing activities, blogging requires you to think from the consumer’s (patient’s) perspective, understand their interests, take current trends into account and invite other Key Opinion Leaders (KOLS) to share their insights on your blog. Blogging is not a single periodic campaign. It involves continuous engagement with patients and industry peers that is focused on current, relevant developments and shared interests.
Blogs provide three distinct technical advantages over websites.
- Ease of updating text, video files (vlogging) and audio (podcasts) even from a hand-held device—mobile (moblogging).
- Engages a larger audience through better search engine rankings. This is attributed to having highly engaging and informative content on the blog.
- Cost of maintaining a blog. While generating interest and engaging a wider audience, maintaining a blog is a low-cost affair.
Blogging gives pharmaceutical companies the freedom to share information more frequently and adapt to current trends more easily than regular websites. Blogging can also be done in a controlled environment that can comply with pharma regulations wherever necessary. Pharmaceutical firms must invest time in conducting research to identify their target audience, locate information gaps within your target audience and find opportunities to fill in these gaps wherever information is inadequate or not readily available.
It should be borne in mind that pharmaceutical blogs also are subject to FDA regulations and guidelines for content as there are for any other pharmaceutical communications. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) compliance must be observed.
Considering these restrictions and strict regulatory oversight, pharmaceutical companies can opt for either branded or unbranded blogs.
Branded vs Unbranded Blogs
Here’s a simple difference between ‘branded’ and ‘unbranded’ content. Branded pharma sites will host the product’s name, indications and attributes. Unbranded pharma sites don’t. For example, Advair.com is the branded site for GSK while asthma.com is an unbranded site by GSK that focuses on asthma.
- Branded Blogs
A Branded blog augments brand awareness. It positions the company as a campaigner in specific disease segments, increases search engine rankings (through search engine optimization – SEO for keyword phrases), and creates awareness in the target community about a specific disease state or product. Branded blogs provide information seekers with authentic information and allow influencers to share the content across online forums.
However, there is a flipside to branded blogs. Regulatory authorities such as the FDA mandate that such blogs carry Important Safety Information (ISI). While this is very important to provide balanced, scientific information, it can clutter and distract the reader. It may also reduce the reader’s trust because the site would appear as just another marketing avenue.
2. Unbranded Blogs
Unbranded blogs have fewer restrictions in the creation of content and can potentially add more value. Such blogs provide a platform for open discussion of a disease state, lifestyle conversation and empowering stories to share within the community. An unbranded blog is more authentic, unbranded storytelling that allows the organization’s voice to be heard, influences online sentiment and builds keyword traffic.
Here are six reasons why pharmaceutical companies should invest in creating unbranded blogs:
- Educate patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals who are looking for information and updates on the disease.
- Increase awareness of the disease and improve diagnosis.
- Generate leads by registering patients/caregivers/healthcare professionals in a CRM database.
- Engage patients and drive them to prescribers.
- Good PR. It provides an excellent opportunity to support a cause or foster goodwill toward the brand.
- Unbranded blogs don’t contain product claims which makes them less regulated and allows information to quickly connect with the market.
Here are a few examples of unbranded pharma blogs.
- Sanofi Discuss Diabetes (http://diabetes.sanofi.us/topics/discuss-diabetes/)(11)
- com by Pfizer (https://www.arthritis.com/)(12)
- #ActuallySheCan by Allergan PLC (https://actuallyshecan.com/home)(13)
- Your Partner In Epilepsy (http://www.lundbeck.com/us/our-commitment/community-involvement/your-partner-in-epilepsy)(14)
- Medtronic (http://www.loop-blog.com/)(15)
- Set Your Sights by Novartis (http://www.setyoursights.com/)(16)
Blogs help build followers as they can be easily integrated with social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Every post that is updated on a blog can trigger social media alerts and send alerts via email to its subscribers which can help increase web traffic.
A well-managed blog builds the reader’s confidence in you, your company and your brand. With increased consumer engagement, a strong connection is built with the reader that encourages them to return for more relevant information.
What role does the FDA play in regulating pharma blog content?
A draft guidance document — ‘Guidance for Industry – Fulfilling Regulatory Requirements for Post marketing Submissions of Interactive Promotional Media for Prescription Human and Animal Drugs and Biologics’ — was published by the FDA in 2014. The guidance states that a pharmaceutical firm is directly responsible for product promotional communications on sites that are owned, controlled, created, influenced, or operated by, or on behalf of, the firm. These promotional communications include firm-sponsored microblogs (e.g., Twitter), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), firm blogs, and other sites that are under the control or influence of the firm. Irrespective of whether the firm is directly involved or has someone else acting on its behalf, FDA considers the firm responsible for the content on the blog as well as for submitting the blog to FDA to meet post marketing submission requirements.
Further, pharmaceutical firms need to show transparency in disclosing their involvement on a blog by clearly identifying user generated content and communications of its employees or third parties acting on behalf of the firm. A pharmaceutical firm can achieve this by including the firm’s identifier (name or logo) as part of the communication.
A firm is generally not responsible for user generated content that is truly independent of the firm (i.e., is not produced by, or on behalf of, or prompted by the firm in any particular manner.
Also, the FDA does not ordinarily view user generated content on firm-owned or firm-controlled venues such as blogs, message boards, and chat rooms as promotional content on behalf of the firm as long as the user has no affiliation with the firm and the firm had no influence on the user generated content.
Finally, the FDA recommends that pharmaceutical firms submit specimens of the interactive promotional media being used on the firm-owned or firm-controlled venue (e.g., blog, message board, or chat room) to the Agency using Form FDA 2253 or Form FDA 2301. To know more about submission requirements, visit the following link – http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidance/UCM381352.pdf
From a few stand-alone blogs in 1994 to countless blogs created every day, blogging has come a long way. With growing engagement and increased ease of access to internet, blogging is proving to be a powerful tool to get the brand’s message across. The ease of sharing information within social communities and improvisation in uploading new content makes it relatively easy to generate engagement. This can, in turn boost your credibility and improve search engine rankings.
Blogging is no longer a hobby but a serious business tool that has and continues to attract major pharmaceutical firms. Its influence should not be underestimated. Pharma blogging has endless possibilities for today’s businesses and should play an important role as part of a sound marketing plan.
- Information Overload. (http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/12/07/information-overload/). Site Accessed on 30 December 2016.
- Fox S, Rainie L. Vital decisions: How internet users decide what information to trust when they or their loved ones are sick 2002; Washington, DC, Pew Internet & American Life Project.
- The term “e-log” has been used to describe journal entries sent out via e-mail since as early as March 1996. Norman, David (2005-07-13), Users confused by blogs, archived from the original on 2007-06-07. https://web.archive.org/web/20070607235110/http://lists.drupal.org/archives/development/2005-07/msg00208.html . Site accessed on 30 Dec 2016.
- “Research staff and students welcome ‘E-Log'”. University College London. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0312/new-e-log. Site accessed on 30 Dec 2016.
- Blogs turn 10–who’s the father? https://www.cnet.com/news/blogs-turn-10-whos-the-father/. Site accessed on 30 Dec 2016.
- Happy 20th anniversary to Dave Winer – inventor of the blog. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/12/happy-20th-anniversary-dave-winer-inventor-of-the-blog Site accessed on 2nd Jan 2017.
- http://links.net/vita/ Site accessed on 2nd Jan 2017.
- Web’s blog, stardate 1999. https://web.archive.org/web/20000302042010/http://www.japantimes.co.jp/features/cyberia/1999/cyberia991124.html
- Powell, Nigel (2000-01-23). “Sharing the net’s wares”. Sunday Times. p. 48. ISSN 0956-1382.
- Safire, William (July 28, 2002). “On Language: Blog”. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved July 12, 2005 http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/28/magazine/the-way-we-live-now-7-28-02-on-language-blog.html Site accessed on 2nd Jan 2017.
- Sanofi Discuss Diabetes. http://diabetes.sanofi.us/topics/discuss-diabetes/ Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017
- com https://www.arthritis.com/ Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017
- #ActuallySheCan https://actuallyshecan.com/home Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017
- Your Partner In Epilepsy http://www.lundbeck.com/us/our-commitment/community-involvement/your-partner-in-epilepsy Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017
- Medtronic http://www.loop-blog.com/ Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017
- Set Your Sights http://www.setyoursights.com/ Site accessed on 30th Jan 2017