Clearly, pharmaceutical marketers trail their colleagues in other industries when it comes to the Internet. There are many good reasons for this, which I may explore in a future article. Let's focus for now on "Consumer Generated Content" (CGC, also known as "Customer Generated Content" or "User Generated Content," UGC), which was one of the "hot" topics at the recent CBI eMarketing for Pharmaceuticals conference. I expect you'll be hearing more about CGC as marketing vendors, especially "Buzz Marketers," promote it as a legitimate target for pharmaceutical marketing.
Blogs are the newest and best known examples of CGC/UGC and are the most likely targets of pharmaceutical marketing and PR efforts (see "Blogs and the Pharmaceutical Industry").
Perhaps millions of doctor and patient bloggers write about drugs and the conditions they treat. Ten times that number of consumers read these blogs every day. I am told by knowledgeable people that consumers are twice as engaged on Yahoo! expert blogs (eg, physician blogs) than other Yahoo! content on the same topics. Therefore, it makes sense, from an online drug marketer's point of view, to advertise on those expert blogs. Yahoo! does in fact serve up drug ads alongside health blog entries (you might see a Pulmicort ad, for example, alongside "The Pediatrician Is In," a physician blog).
Marketers and PR people also are tracking what consumers, physicians, pundits and critics are saying about their products and companies on blogs as well as on other CGC forums. This is called Buzz Market Research, the main staple of buzz marketing firms. Pharmaceutical marketers tread the buzz waters carefully because they are obliged to report to the FDA any adverse reactions they become aware of. Nevertheless, this kind of research often is done through a third party, which puts firewalls between the pharmaceutical client and specific comments from patients and physician bloggers.
Monitoring buzz is one thing, creating it is another. It starts to get hairy, for example, when marketers try to infiltrate the blogoshere and create content disguised as CGC or, worse, pay legitimate bloggers to create favorable content. This was a topic touched upon at the CBI conference. It was expressed thusly: "Readers of CGC are 'hyper-engaged' and therefore advertisers should embrace CGC to engage their targets in new, open dialogue." That is, jump into the conversation and "influence the influencers!" It's questionable how "open" a dialogue can be when one participant views the other as a "target!"
I invite you to review the results of the Buzz 'n Blog Pharma Marketing Survey.