Ron Callari, writing for InventorSpot, covered the top 10 pharmaceutical companies enaged in social media. I couldn’t help but be amused by this quote about me:
… has a personality that overshadows the company’s online presence… While damaging the brand ‘by association’, Nalty quit Merck to become a micro-celeb of sorts and a social media consultant.
I hadn’t considered the fact that perhaps my own online presence rivals, if not overshadows Merck’s. While Gardasil and other brands have significant online presence… most of it’s paid media. My videos are viewed more than 250,000 times daily, and I’d venture that’s collectively more time than consumers spend engaging with Merck websites (although I’m not sure about some of the physician activity).
Ironically, this week I’ve probably done more for Propecia, my former brand, than through many of my highly regulated and legally scrutinized marketing efforts of past years. In the past 2 weeks:
- I got a hair transplant, broadcasted it live to thousands, showed off highlights to 84,000 people (to date) through a two part (see part one and two) video chronicle of my hair adventure. These videos are among the top most-viewed and highest-rated comedies of the week, which isn’t quite typical of something medical. My hope is they can help destigmatize being concerned about, and treating, hairloss.
- I’ve got an active blog (www.hairofnalts.com), where I can say what I want, without extended meetings debating the difference between the word “save” and “preserve.”
- I bought my Propecia Propak for full retail price, and didn’t even bother enrolling in the discount program.
- Last night I appeared on XM Radio’s “The Bald Truth” with my surgeon (Alan Bauman) and the most passionate advocate for hairloss treatment (Spencer Kobren, the show’s host).
- YouTube and Google searches are beginning to show my videos higher on results for various terms (transplant, fue, hairloss), in what’s a fairly competitive category.
Propecia the Crack Whore is still on the first page of YouTube’s search results for the word Propecia (not ideal considering YouTube remains the number 2 search engine after Google). If I did a video titled Propecia, mine would likely become the first result.
Having spent 3 years at Merck, I predict they’re not reacting as I would if a brand alumnus turned patient advocate. I’d be thrilled! The FDA can’t mediate a former employee’s efforts to educate people about a largely missunderstood disease state. And of course I’m being very careful about what I say about Propecia… keeping my statements as objective as possible, and positive.
Yet Merck is, no doubt, terrified. Is Nalts vioating any responsibilities (confidentiality or otherwise)? Nope. Is he a liability? Hardly. Will he embarass us? Of course not. How do we distance ourselves from this? Don’t worry. I know you can’t touch this with a 10-foot poll. I’m more likely to get sponsored by PETA.
But I’ve learned a few things in through this experience. The consumer advocate or passionate physician has none of the constraints of a drug manufacturer. And I do believe that pharmaceutical firms will find ways to appropriately activate brand champions and evangelists without being liable for everything they say. It’s more effective than advertising, and far more credible and trusted.
It just needs to be done with transparency and appropriate intent (disease-state awareness as opposed to pushing unbalanced messages or unsubstantiated product claims). There are easier short-term ways pharma brands can engage patients than this (stay tuned for a Nalts Consulting white paper showing these), but there will come a day where drug firms cultivate relationships with patient “key opinion leaders” with a clear understanding of what’s black, white and gray.
In fact tomorrow I speak to senior marketing leaders at a major pharmaceutical firm about the ways they can tap social media by maximizing impact and minimizing risk (based on a number of brand/market conditions that set the social-media strategy). There’s not a cynic that can attend that can toss me a curve ball I’ve not seen.
My understanding is that my Merck departure heightened senior executive’s attention to social media, and raised fundamental issues about what’s legal (and even what’s effective). Perhaps my greatest contribution to get Merck engaged in innovative new media (a battle I fought routinely as an extracurricular to marketing Propecia) was my departure!