A recent discussion on LinkedIn asked theImage question: “Who in your office is responsible for maintaining your social media accounts?” The responses were all over the lot, with the top five being:

  1. The business owner/principal
  2. An administrator
  3. An outsourced firm
  4. Receptionist/interns
  5. On-site staff dedicated to social media

Rather than discuss the pros and cons of each, I was prompted to analyze the basic requirements of the function and the attributes needed to perform it well. Here are my six criteria.

1. Social media affinity and skills

Of paramount importance is social aptitude. Someone who uses and enjoys social media socially understands what’s likeable, what’s shareable and what activates an audience. Someone who doesn’t “get” the rules of engagement from a user perspective can’t possibly relate. This doesn’t mean that your teenage daughter with x thousand Facebook friends is the best choice for your community manager, either.

A good fit requires everything from soft skills to the highly technical. Being able to tell a good story in a sincere, authentic way is vital. So, too, are at least basic skills in every storytelling medium, from photography and graphics to video.

You also need a firm grasp of the technical aspects of social media maintenance, from dashboards to analytical tools, plus an early adopters zeal in keeping abreast of this ever-changing landscape.

2. Analytical mindset

Speaking of analytical tools, it doesn’t hurt to have the statistical aptitude to be able to turn that data into actionable insights. By the way, that’s a skill that even most seasoned marketers lack, according to a recent CEB study of nearly 800 marketers at Fortune 1000 companies.

3. Business sense to execute your social media strategy

It goes without saying (or it SHOULD, anyway) that if social media is to be an effective part of your overall marketing and communications program, there should be a clear strategy and objective in place. The best goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Timely.) Assuming that all that is in place, whoever maintains the accounts needs to be totally in sync, measuring results against goal and adjusting tactics and content to maximize returns.

4. Deep customer insights

Whether from market research, personal experience, “listening” through social media channels or all of the above, an intimate understanding of—and empathy for—customer likes, wants, needs, pain points and aspirations is key to audience engagement.

5. Knowledge of your business

Familiarity with the internal workings of the organization is a huge help in identifying content opportunities and sources to keep your social media channels fresh and pertinent. It’s also important to have a thorough understanding of the business’s social media policies, as well as any rules & guidelines governing customer service and your industry. Last, but not least, you have to know when consult a higher authority.

6. Time—and not just during normal office hours, either

Social media is 24/7, crosses time zones and continents, and requires timely responses in order to engage the community and keep the conversation going. Evidence suggests that many demographics and social media channels are most active evenings and weekends.

And then, you never know when you’re going to get that brand-breaking customer complaint. When Frank Eliason pioneered @ComcastCares to provide customer support via Twitter, he was tethered to his smart phone day and night. Granted, there are software tools and vendor services for scheduling and monitoring social media activity when you can’t. But somebody has to be on the receiving end for those critical alerts.

Bottom line: you’re either real time or you’re irrelevant.

Photo courtesy of caribb

Sound like a 6-headed monster?

If your receptionist or intern possesses all of these qualities, they’re either a real gem and should be promoted or they’re the mythical 6-headed monster Scylla. (Not sure I’d want to mess with her.) But in the non-mythical world, this confluence of talents rarely, if ever, rears its head(s).

Truth is, social media marketing is a team sport and your campaign could benefit from the input of everyone on the above list. The business insights and strategy of the business owner/principal; Administrator-approved social media policies and guidelines; The social marketing savvy, technical know-how and toolset of an interactive shop; Even the real world social media user’s perspective of your receptionist and interns.

But ultimate responsibility for day-to-day maintenance and management of your social media efforts should rest with a dedicated on-site staff.

Take a page out of Facebook

While by no means the only social media channel, Facebook nevertheless provides a good template for a social media management team right in its brand page admin set-up. It allows for the creation of five different roles with different areas of responsibility:

  1. Manager
  2. Content Creator
  3. Moderator
  4. Advertiser
  5. Insights Analyst

These roles don’t have to be mutually exclusive, if your social media campaign is in its infancy. For instance, the manager could also be the moderator and the Insights Analyst could work in your IT department. But more than likely, you will have many people throughout the company creating content. For instance, Zappos has 10 employees pinning on its Pinterest boards alone. But it takes integrated efforts of a properly trained in-house team, who know the business, its culture and its customers, to turn social media into an integral part of your marketing program. And that will reward you with the best and most consistent results in the long run.

Granted, no one expects pharmaceutical web sites to exude the fun and games of say, The 21st Century Beetle – Rock ‘n’ Scroll, one of this year’s Webby Award winners. But even in their own category at the 2012 Webbys, pharmaceutical brand web sites were conspicuous by their absence. Of the five nominees, the lone branded drug site was FluMist’s Pick Your Nose—a clever take on Medimmune’s nasal alternative to the flu shot that made the cut for the second year in a row.

The real innovation in the category came from entries that were decidedly un-pharma. So much so, this looked more like the anti-pharma web awards. Which is a shame, really. Because the concept that seemed to resonate most with the Webby judges is one that also resonates with today’s empowered, engaged e-patients: helping healthcare consumers make informed choices. There’s nothing inherently un-pharma about that, is there?

So take note pharma. Here are ideas you can use.

Idea #1: GoodRx. My personal favorite and also the People’s Choice Webby winner, GoodRx aims to make prescription drugs more affordable for everyone, with or without health insurance.


GoodRx.com finds the lowest prices on 6,000 Rx drugs.

Co-founded by two ex-Facebook guys, Doug Hirsch and Scott Marlette, the site gives consumers the same kind of tools they use to find the cheapest TV or airline tickets. Just type in a drug name and zip code to compare prices from major US chain stores, mail order pharmacies and even some local stores. Plus there are store coupons, info on pharmacy discount plans and links to drug companies’ own discount programs.

What’s stopping any pharma brand web site from helping consumers search for the best prices for their product? Nothing. Except maybe fear of instilling sticker shock? But consider the alternative: at GoodRx, patients can also search brand vs. generic pricing. Talk about sticker shock then! Or they can use the GoodRx iPhone app right in the doctor’s office to get their doctor to write a prescription for the brand that best fits their budget. Maybe it’s better to head them off at the pass with your own product price search. Or, at the very least,with an easy tool that lets me check my health plan’s coverage or co-pay.

Idea #2: Ask a Patient  This year’s Webby winner for Best Web Site: Pharmaceuticals is all about patient empowerment. AskaPatient.com was created by Consumer Health Resource Group, LLC to help individuals research drugs and health care topics.

Askapatient.com home page

This year’s Webby winner for Best Web Site: Pharmaceuticals is all about patient empowerment.

If GoodRx is the Expedia of pharmaceuticals, then AskaPatient is the TripAdvisor. Instead of commenting on hotel accommodations, consumers review their medications, sharing side effects and success stories, and rate their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5. According to the site’s FAQ’s the average rating for all drugs in the AskaPatient database is about 3, which equals “average” or “somewhat satisfied.” After perusing a fair number of patient postings, I found as many high fives as low ratings. But like many other consumer product reviews, they are only one piece of the puzzle. (One person’s dream vacation can be another’s nightmare, after all.) However, AskaPatient certainly brings those dry adverse event profiles on the (mostly) unread PI’s to life.

What’s the big idea here for drug makers? I hardly expect them to open their web sites (or even their Facebook pages, for that matter) to consumer side effect complaints. On the other hand, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the elephant in the room. An honest discussion of side effects as part of real patient stories can go a long way toward managing expectations and improving adherence. My dream web site: one that compares side effect profiles of all drugs in a  category, in much the same way that auto makers openly compare the stats of their cars with the competition. Maybe next year?

Idea #3: Help I need help. The branding of this OTC line of single symptom remedies is childishly simple. And simply brilliant. From product names (Help I Have a Headache)…

Help Remedies

HelpIneedhelp.com delivers on a simple brand promise: less.

to plain Jane biodegradable packaging… to contents (uncoated, uncolored, single active ingredients), Help Remedies has cornered the market on less—less drug, less dye, less confusion. The HelpIneedhelp web site is an exercise in simplicity itself and a beautiful showcase for the brand.  There isn’t a single happy patient cliche in site.  (The only people on the site are in the simply produced, tongue-in-cheek videos.) The playfully restrained design invites interaction and makes it simple (that word again!) to learn more, find a store or buy online.

The message for pharma? Simply, help me.

Help me understand my condition and your treatment. Help me find a way to afford it. Help me manage side effects. Help me any way you can. With simple and personal language. With  easy-to-use tools. With relevant support. With whatever YOU would want if you were in MY shoes. Help me.

Then maybe we’ll see more pharma innovation at next year’s Webby Awards.

Two seemingly unrelated events occurred at 8 pm on Wednesday, February 16. Each breaking new ground in information technology.

  1. IBM’s supercomputer Watson handily trumped human champions Ken Jennings  and Brad Rutter in the final episode of Jeopardy‘s three-day “Man vs. Machine”.
  2. AstraZeneca (@AstraZenecaUS) hosted the first ever pharma tweet chat (#rxsaves) on patient assistance programs.

The timing of these milestones is not their only synchronicity. Far more significant is the impact that Watson’s brainpower could have on the central issue of AZ’s chat (and of our entire health care system, for that matter): getting the right health care information to the right people, right when they need it. Watson’s ability to communicate in natural language, while applying 1000’s of algorithms to the content of a million or more books in the blink of an eye, could well be the answer—a prospect not lost on the folks at IBM.

Next stop for Watson is not American Idol. It’s the doctor’s office.

On the heels of Watson’s Jeopardy! success the NY Times reported, “IBM will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.”

Wow! Just add a smartphone app and you’ve got a superhighway of medical education straight to the point of care.

Patients need cybernetic assistants, too.

AstraZeneca’s tweet chat opened with a simple enough question: “What is best way to increase awareness of prescription savings programs?” But as the ensuing discussion proved, the answer is far from simple.

Too much disparity in eligibility criteria from state to state, pharma to pharma.

Too many touch points. Should providers be responsible? Or pharmacists? Too little time.

And too few of the really needy and elder populations are within reach of online patient advocates and disease-specific social media, as this infographic from the PEW Internet and American Life Project shows.

However, everyone (soon, I hope!) will have an EHR.

The reasonable use requirements of health care reform have spurred the long overdue adaptation of electronic health records. Why can’t prescription savings resources be tied to these records? Then I could give Watson a ring to find out what’s available for all the drugs I’m taking and find out if I’m eligible. And while he’s at it, maybe he could help me find the best Medicare Part D plan for me? Or that might be a frontier too far.

Heck, we crossed two frontiers in one night. Let’s go for one more!

For social media junkies and pharma followers, there are good reviews of the AstraZeneca #rxsaves tweet chat by John Mack and Wego Health, and a transcript of the entire chat here.

Nov. 12, 2010, Chadds Ford, PA.   Endo Pharmaceuticals CEO David Holveck was the guest speaker at today’s Executive Women’s Breakfast hosted by the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Greater Philadelphia chapter (HBA GP). His talk focused on how Endo’s core strategy is evolving in response to the changing U.S. health care environment, but many of the points he made in “Our Industry Through a Different Lens” are applicable to the pharma industry at large.

“We in the pharma industry have been privileged for decades in that we didn't have to innovate beyond products." David Holveck, CEO, Endo Pharmaceuticals

Holveck sees three key drivers of change that pharma must respond to: 1.) economics; 2) access; and 3) outcomes. “We in the pharma industry have been privileged for decades in that we didn’t have to innovate beyond products,” he explains. “Now we have to move beyond products to cost-effective solutions that broaden access and improve outcomes.” The future innovation that’s needed is a new business model that adds value across the entire care pathway.

For Endo’s transformation Holveck staked out a therapeutic area—quite literally—the pelvis. Then he acquired Indevus (urology and endocrinology drugs), HealthTronics (urology diagnostics and services) and Qualitest (generic pain meds) to build his pain franchise into an integrated solution for urology and endocrinology. He foresees broadening distribution beyond physicians and hospitals to specialized urology clinics, where there is a clear start and finish to therapy and consumer-driven incentive to deliver the best and most cost-effective results. “We’re talking about consumers putting money on the table wanting an outcome.” There he envisions Endo offering a full range of products, from diagnostics and devices to branded and generic medications, which touch every step in the care pathway to produce reliable outcomes.

This products-plus-solutions model is the first step toward what Holveck sees as a fully integrated system—a distributed health network of management, diagnostics and therapeutics—with Endo providing a value-added service, not just products. To get there, he readily admits, “We have to own the outcomes,” which historically have been the province of the payers. “Until the pharma industry gets a better handle on data and outcomes, we’re going to be discounted pretty quickly in the healthcare system,” he warns.

The evolution from products to products-plus-solutions to fully integrated system is an intriguing idea, and truly a sea change for the pharmaceutical industry. It means becoming an integral part of the health care system, rather than merely a supplier to it. It means switching from a manufacturing to a service model. It means adding value and owning outcomes to have its services welcomed. But the end result—a consumer-centric model that improves access to affordable quality care for everyone—could be just what the doctor ordered.

Last week’s ePatient Connections conference in Philadelphia served up a healthy dose of sharing, caring and sometimes daring technologies to empower healthcare consumers. Rather than chronicle the event, which Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and Eileen O’Brien have done so well, I’ve chosen to sum it up with 5 sound-bytes that provide a big picture overview for all stakeholders to follow in engaging, educating and enabling patients and caregivers.

1. “Pervasive is persuasive.” David Rose of MIT and Vitality Glowcaps

For my money, “pervasive is persuasive” should be the mantra of all eHealth initiatives. This brilliantly simple observation encapsulates not only why we should be trying to connect with healthcare consumers through every channel possible, but also how to do it right. David’s point: Put information at the point of decision, where it is most relevant. In our ever more electronically connected lives that could be anywhere and everywhere, from the smart pill bottle in our medicine cabinet to our social networks.

Healthy messaging must be germane to who we are, how we live and what we value, a point echoed throughout the conference, but most notably by keynote speaker Victor Stretcher, founder of HealthMedia.  His 20 years of research on motivating healthy behaviors has yielded this “magic mix”: more relevant messages + less work for the individual = more behavior change.

Tactically, ePatient Connections offered lots of examples of pervasive, relevant and work-saving technology-enabled care. Quintiles’ iGuard medication monitoring service sought engagement with patients at a “critical point in the workflow”, the pharmacy. Pfizer Canada’s Smidge app was designed to promote healthy lifestyle activities in “the downtime between New York City subway stops.” And the popular FitBit device (on backorder until mid-November) goes everywhere you go (even to bed!) to monitor and track progress to your fitness goals.

2.  & 3. “You don’t want compliance. You want the patient to own the experience.” Dr. Danny Sands, Cisco’s Director of Medical Informatics

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s startling nevertheless, because it comes from a healthcare provider who is on the same page as patients. Patient rights advocate, Regina Holliday, put it this way, “We don’t want compliance. We want participation.” Are we beginning to see the breakdown of the barrier between true patient-physician dialogue? I hope so.

As Dr. Sands acknowledged—and Regina’s very moving personal story demonstrated—up to now the medical establishment has been all about hording info, about being the sole authority, even when they don’t have all the answers. But he sees huge power in saying, “I don’t know… Let’s look it up together.”  It’s an intriguing picture: doctor and patient sitting down at the computer together. Will they be visiting your website? I believe there’s huge power in facilitating these conversations.

4 & 5. “Truly advocating for patients is different from marketing to them.” Joe Shields, Director World Wide Innovation at Pfizer

Joe humbly talked about the challenges of his new job at Pfizer, but he certainly understands the ultimate goal, which MS patient and e-patient blogger, Lisa Emrich, put so succinctly, “Stop selling and start supporting.”

Certainly, ePatient Connections offered plenty of insights from patient advocacy groups and patients themselves about the support they need. There was the “compassionate technology” of Sona Mehring’s CaringBridge. The loss of trust when Teva pulled the plug on its popular patient community MSWatch. And the personal struggles with the healthcare system to achieve truly collaborative care, which is in everyone’s best interest, but especially patients.

The take-away for anyone trying to engage healthcare consumers is:

Be pervasive. One social media channel or one killer app is not enough. You have to be everywhere the audience is.

Be relevant. We now have the technology to truly personalize health messages. Make the most of it. “Be a person, not a machine.” (Brooke McMillan, LIVESTRONG) What would you want to know / do / use if you had this disease?

Be a facilitator. Open up and encourage more robust 3-way conversations between doctors, patients and peers.

And be supportive. Target and fill patients’ unmet needs.

I’m not an economist or fiscal policy expert. Just your average citizen. But I’ve achieved fiscal responsibility for the US through 2018. On my own. Without even touching a calculator. All I needed was 20 minutes and this nifty simulator from some really smart folks at The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as most campaign slogans make it seem. I had to learn about nearly every line item (courtesy of the handy info button next to each one), and make hard choices about which programs to cut, which to keep and how to pay for them. But as I wielded my sharpened digital pencil, the simulator did all the heavy lifting—crunching numbers and keeping tabs on my spending and income. The process also taught me a lot. I now have a much better understanding of the complexities and trade-offs involved than I could ever have gotten from watching C-Span 24/7 or reading every page of the official US Budget documents.

What’s this got to do with health care? Don’t worry. The point of this post is not about slashing Medicare entitlements or repealing health care reform. It’s about the simulator tool itself. I can only imagine the complexity of assumptions, calculations, spreadsheets and algorithms that the bipartisan CRFB had to analyze and compile to make their simulator work. But the science and expertise is hidden behind an interface that’s engagingly simple. All I had to worry about was making decisions about what was important to me. Therein lies a crucial lesson for those of us who want to connect with health care consumers.

Why can’t we make learning about and making important health care decisions just as easy?

Let’s just stick with numbers. Like the federal budget, health care is rife with a mind-boggling blizzard of figures—blood pressure, glucose levels, calorie counts, A1Cs, to name a few—just as incomprehensible to us average Joes and Joelles as the budget deficit. But unlike the deficit, we are personally responsible for managing “our” numbers. And we haven’t a clue where to start. That’s why I’d like to see more consumer health care tools like the budget simulator. Mask the science behind an engagingly simple interface that makes the numbers real, personal and pertinent.

Years ago I demonstrated this by having an interactive game prototype developed for the management of hypertension. “Aim for 120/80” was modeled after a football field, with blood pressure (BP) values in place of yardage markers. To get into the end zone (120/80), you had to make choices like losing weight or exercising more. The distances each choice moved you toward your goal were based on the best available data at the time, The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure—which is such a mouthful, even for experts, it’s commonly called JNC7. (JNC8 is due out next year.)

A football game teaches patients steps they can take to reach their BP goal.

The objective was to:

  • Visualize something that was invisible (hypertension);
  • Demonstrate the positive effects of the simple steps I can take to reach my BP goal;
  • But most of all, make sense of the numbers. Make them personal. Make them relevant. Make them work for me.

Alas, “Aim for 120/80” never got beyond the prototype stage. What’s really disturbing is how little else has been done since then to help make personal health care decisions easier for consumers. But I have stumbled across some notable examples.

Roche ACCU-CHEK Connect program is a good start

Diabetes management is a prime example of the disconnect between patients and overwhelming numbers. The founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD) Dr. Stephen Edelman knows all too well is that the most significant thing patients associate with their glucose numbers is feelings of frustration, guilt and failure. He always strikes a chord with patient audiences when he talks about “making up the numbers” on their blood sugar diaries. If you don’t understand the numbers and how to manage them, why even bother to test and record them? You might as well just make them up—or record only the “good” numbers—to keep your doctor happy.

The ACCU-CHECK Connect program from Roche attempts to change that mindset and simplify the glucose numbers game. While not computerized, their “Testing in Pairs” and “360” tools help people with diabetes make the connection between blood sugar numbers and the things they do. The concept behind “Testing in Pairs” is particularly appealing: focus on just one set of numbers, say before and after breakfast, and see how small changes in your routine from one day to the next change your test results. Not surprisingly, the tools were developed based on input from diabetes bloggers and broadcasters, like Riva Greenberg. According to her, the number one recommendation the diabetes social media community made to Roche was “Keep It Real – Display the real experience of diabetes, the real blood sugar numbers we get, and teach patients what to do with them.”

I think we need more pharma companies and healthcare providers who listen to patients. So there can be more tools that teach patients what to do and how to do it. That’s patient empowerment at its best.

It isn’t ESPN 3D or even vuvuzela-dampening audio tools. It’s this nifty little calendar created by Marca.com for Sony Ericsson. It’s a complete guide to the month-long contest in one simple infographic. Yet even a soccer newbie like myself could easily get the hang of it. I started picking out my team’s schedule. Then checking the standings in the various groups and stages. And eventually, long after the USA was eliminated, I was watching more futbol than I have in a lifetime. My “Aha!” moment: when I started checking the date to see who’s playing today. I was hooked.

All the elements of a perfect engagement tool:

1. Something Worth Following

While this should be a no-brainer—and certainly is with the international fervor surrounding the World Cup—it’s amazing to me how much marketing effort is spent hyping non-events or pseudo-communities that would never pass the “What’s in it for me?” test.

2. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

As every good copywriter knows, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here, a simple unifying stadium graphic neatly organizes 32 teams, playing up to 4 games a day, across 10 locations, and keeps all the schedules, results and scores up-to-the-minute and instantly accessible in a single intuitive interface. Without any additional navigation, I can sift and sort the data that’s relevant to me—whether die-hard fan attending the games in South Africa or casual observer from the other side of the world. (There’s a Spanish version, too!) For an easy-to-follow World Cup schedule that’s fun to boot, it beats hands-down anything from FIFA, ESPN and Yahoo Sports.

3. What’s the Kicker?

One of the first things that I learned about writing TV spots was to end with a good kicker—a reward for watching. Presumably, the audience would endure your message over and over again waiting for a good kicker. So what’s my reward from the World Cup Calendar?

Understanding for the first time how the competition works, how teams advance and what’s coming next. Feeling more connected with this international spectacle. Being able to talk about it with my British-born husband and soccer-referee brother. And enjoying it all the more because of all of the above. Not a bad return on a very small investment of time and energy.

But enough of this. I’ve got the World Cup Final to watch now.