Big Pharma and The Blogosphere: Whose Listening, and What’s Being Said?

If you’re reading this blog, it seems to suggest that you have an interest in user generated content that relates to the Pharmaceutical industry.  If that’s true, you share that interest with me.
I blog.
I also read, monitor, and track blogs daily and am, in every way, enamored by the blogosphere.
Regularly reviewing industry blogs can provide valuable insight into the conversations that are happening throughout industry.  If you haven’t yet, take a minute and google “Pharma Blogs” – or better yet, google “Best Pharma Blogs.”
The hits returned will include a range of timely topics, including:
  • New product development and approvals
  • Research trends
  •  Sales projections
  • Stock prices
  • Food and Drug Law
  • Government oversight
  •  Bio-development and all things ethical
  •  and more stock prices
  • Government funding and health care
  • Corporate mergers
  • User fees and drug pricing
  • Drug marketing and advertising
  • and even more stock prices
  • Executive view points
  • Annual Blog Awards
  • Lists of influential Bloggers
Depending on your role within the industry, this list may seem very complete.  It certainly speaks to the visibility of the topics that are relevant to:
  • Investors
  • Executives
  • Lawyers
  • Marketing
  • Advertising reps
  • Researchers
  • Sales professionals
It seems clear that the industry is using social media to host discussions that provide insight into market shares, purchasing trends, and promotional effectiveness.  It also seems clear that Big Pharma’s investment in the use of social media is growing.  Lately, there have even been blogs on how the content of blogs is being used by Big Pharma.
It appears monitoring the content of industry related blogs has now spurred a cottage industry of third party companies that employ technology designed to monitor, track, and interpret blog content; packaging the results into interpretative reports for Pharma Executives.  These reports are then used as input to strategic decision making at the executive level of Big Pharma.
The companies that are emerging as leaders in this field include:
  • Indegene
  • Cognizant
  • ListenLogic
  • Genpact
  • Semantelli
  • Visible Technologies
  • Radian6
There is also a well understood and fairly direct relationship between actions taken by Big Pharma and responsive actions taken by US regulators.
This means what? 
Bloggers publish content→
Blogosphere content is monitored by technology →
Monitoring results are interpreted and summarized by non-Pharma industry third parties →
Pharma leaders review interpretative reports →
Decisions are made based on the “insight” provided by those summaries
Should we then assume, that as the content of blogs go, so goes the industry?
And then in turn, so goes regulatory action?
I’m not sure we are there quite yet, but it appears that we are on our way.  The birth of the social media listening industry, and Big Pharma’s growing use of it, clearly suggests that what we as a community say online has impact.
When considering the potential impact of this technology, the process engineer in me wonders how algorithms for this technology are designed:
How are sample sizes determined?  Is there any way of knowing that samples of any size are representative?  How are recurrent threads identified?  Are keywords searched for, or does volume indicate which words are key?  Are the interpretive results qualitative or quantitative?  As blogs are traditionally opinion based, how is sentiment quantified?  What are the backgrounds of the human beings interpreting the data?  Do the answers to these questions matter?
While the Quality System professional in me wonders how this process is reliably reproduced:
How often are these listening activities conducted?  How are results compared?  How are trends identified and/or measured?  Is the interpretative report consumer centric?  How is success of a listening study defined?  How are the results reviewed inside the board rooms?  Is the review of this input documented, and if so, how?  Do the answers to these questions matter either?
Moving on from the obvious list of questions that engineers might ask with regard to how these tools work, it might be more useful to take a step back and try to come to an understanding of why professionals blog in the first place.
While individuals may blog for a wide range of reasons, including journaling or expressions of personal opinions, professionals, including myself, generally blog to begin or carry on conversations that are relevant to their professional interests.
If you review the previous entries of this blog, you will notice that we choose topics each month that we believe are worthy of discussion.  Each month, we construct blogs that we hope will be of interest to our readers.  Readers who we assume do what we do for a living.
We choose topics that are fundamental cornerstones of quality manufacturing, such as:
  • process control
  • quality systems
  • cGMPS
  • regulatory enforcement trends
  • current manufacturing technologies
  • change control
  • problem investigation
  • risk management practices
We write about these because this is the space we occupy within the industry; a space that is required by law to protect the health and safety of the American public, and a space that we feel passionately about.
However, when we take a minute and search the internet for blog content generated by professionals within our industry, what do we find?  We find that quality topics are underrepresented and that we have to wade through pages of marketing and PR blogs before we find even one that deals routinely with quality topics.
We may not know precisely how these technologies work, but it seems safe to assume that if this is what we find when we search, then this is what the monitoring technologies hear when they listen.
We have already established that our Executives are seeking the results of what those technologies find when they listen.  One thing seems clear, if today’s conversations are being had on line; our voices are not being heard.
Let’s not allow that to happen.  Let’s let our carefully chosen words speak for us, instead of our silence.
Let’s not miss any opportunity to speak loudly to those we know are listening.  Let’s take advantage of every chance we can get to raise the visibility of these critical issues.  Let’s speak of quality directly to those who are in a position to have impact on consumer safety centric aspects of this industry.
Let’s not let them think that sales and marketing are the only voices in this industry.
Let’s blog.
What we can do as Quality Professionals, to ensure that our interest in quality topics is made clear to those in the board rooms of Big Pharma?
We can put our engineering hats on, evaluate the technology that is being used on a daily basis to steer decision makers, and try to raise the volume of our conversation to a level that can be heard by these technologies.
We can use our online networks to ensure that the content of quality blogs is generated and shared.  We can ensure that our messages are accurately and consistently recognized by the groups that are being paid to detect our presence and quantify our influence.
Here are some simple actions that we all can take to make Quality blogs visible to today’s listening technologies:
  1. Comment on blogs that interest you
  2. Book Mark blog pages, and individual blogs that interest you
  3. Share links to blogs that matter
  4. If blogs with quality topics offer subscription and/or RSS feeds – follow them
  5. Consider blogging or micro blogging on quality topics
  6. If you see websites that generate lists of recommended blogs – and no quality based blogs are on it – submit one
  7. If you have an industry website, consider adding a list of valuable blog and twitter feeds
We can Speak Quality LOUDLY.
© Coda Corp USA 2012. All rights reserved.
Gina Guido-Redden
Chief Operating Officer
Coda Corp USA
(p) 716.751.6150
“Quality is never an accident; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It is the wisest of many alternatives.”
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