It is tempting to look at CRM and say “we now have collected a lot of structured data about many/most HCPs… So I wonder what other interesting data we can stuff into it,” and cast a glance towards social media, the land of unrestricted opinions and attitudes. Tempting, but untenable. And here’s why:

One, data issues. Even if you were able to hack into Sermo or Facebook or some other huge social media site and drain it of it’s content to stuff into the CRM, the data will be almost useless. The reason why CRM works is because it’s been optimized to a high glossy sheen. The data has been structured and standardized and cleaned and properly tabled in ways to allow meaningful (read: complicated) queries to extract useful information.

The reason social media is interesting is because it is the unfettered thoughts in digital form, like an endless stream of focus groups already transcribed. That “data” (if we can even call it that) is a mess. It would take a million monkeys at a million terminals to evaluate, code and input attitudes and opinions into the database to give it any use. For example, if you wanted to ask the question “what are the TV shows that Brand X-prescribing HCPs watch?” you need to query the CRM for a list of high-prescribers, query social media for the likes or interests of those HCPs and then run some data analysis to determine which shows correlate to high-prescribing HCPs (Hogan’s Heroes? Really?). But the data would already have to know what’s a tv show and what’s a book or website or hobby. And that does even take into account the most basic standardization (so that American Idol was the same as american idol). So there’s the data issue, but Google proved that these kinds of issues can be solved with enough money.

Two, personal and professional social media is different. The fact that some people include UpToDate as “social media” is indicative of how hard it is to define social media itself. Is anything interactive and vaguely personal social media? If so, let’s lump Amazon and email into the social media realm and muddy the waters further. But the real issue is one that Google has highlighted with Circles: we treat personal and professional social media differently. My personal twitter and Facebook is where I say personal stuff, make jokes (not all of them completely funny or tasteful), talk to my friends and generally am “off-the-clock” (assuming that any of us are truly off the clock much anymore).

My work twitter, blog, and linkedin account are professional. My opinions there are far more guarded (if you can believe that) and rarely stray far out of professional bounds. I don’t talk about my interests here. I don’t give much away. I start conversations, espouse opinions I may not agree with in the attempts to generate counter-arguments (too much debate training in high school, I guess), and generally talk about things I might not in my personal life. What good is any of that info to the CRM?

Social media is an amazing barometer of attitude in the aggregate, but worthless in the specific. People lie, or are silent, or pass along things they disagree with for no other reason than it was funny or worth mocking. Log into Klout with your personal Twitter account and discover what it thinks you think about. It’s a party game for the nerdy marketer. Laughable.

Three, most companies have not proven that they understand and respect social media enough to let me open up to them. Let’s say I’m a huge fan of the movie “Miller’s Crossing” (and I am, actually. It’s the Coen Brothers’ best work for my money). Maybe I told Facebook that it’s my favorite movie. Why would I do that? Maybe to attract other fans or give people an excuse to start a conversation about it. What did I get? Two things: targeted marketing about mob movies I might like because I like Miller’s Crossing (I don’t like it because it’s a mob movie, I like it because it’s an excellently produced movie) and spam from Fox, the movie’s distributor. The movie is more than 20 years old. I don’t need to to be marketed to about it. So I removed it from my Facebook interests.

The same is true about bands I like, TV shows I watch, books I cherish, etc. I love these things, but companies just use them as a hook to try and sell me something. It’s like no one’s read The Cluetrain Manifesto. (Please, please PLEASE tell you have read it. No? Go Google it and read it online for free. You’ll be doing the world a favor, believe me.)

Most companies simply let me be social with the intent to push a “targeted” product at me. The fact that the targeting is juvenile is beside the point. They are using social media like most people used CRM in the beginning, to put “Dear Mr. Ellis” at the top of the form letter. What a waste. So much data about me and that’s as far as you go…

You know what I want? It’s what I imagine HCPs will respond to, as well? Taking all that data and using it to build relationships (hey, you know that the R in CRM stands for Relationship, right?) is what gets you in the door. Take what you know about me and use it to begin to understand me and my needs so that you can begin to slowly offer me ideas and products that make my life better (that’s not quite the same as trying to sell me something, btw).

Please note that Facebook, the most social of all social medias, is the worst at trying to build relationships. They just want to sell me off to the highest bidder. And that’s why I try and hide everything from Facebook while still using Facebook everyday.

But maybe there’s a solution here. So, if I’m not totally off base here, maybe I can suggest an incremental and achievable solution: reps. Reps solve all these issues very easily. They have met the HCPs, have talked to them, seen their offices and practices, can code the data into your CRM, are focused on the professional side without being blind to the personal side (Dr. ABC has a picture of fishing with his friends, so he must be into fishing. Maybe that can be useful later, like an honorarium he would be hard-pressed to refuse). And a good rep will have begun to form relationships with the HCPs, learning what they want and need to make their life and practice better.

So instead of trying to take a shortcut and “just leverage” social media (as if it’s that easy), maybe pharma should be looking to leverage it’s own internal social network.


This is a slightly expanded comment I made on the Center for Healthcare Innovation’s LinkedIn Group. But feel free to tell me I’m full of it on Twitter. I love that!