Recently, there’s been some discussion on Twitter and certain blogs about Sermo, the online physician community based in the U.S. When Sermo representative Thomas Rines (@tomrines) tweeted that “Sermo is an online community for US physicians. We provide our clients the ability to engage with the community” in a recent #MedDevice chat, he caused a “What? Wait!” doubletake (see “The Twitter Chat that Killed Sermo“).
It seems that many physicians — including some who are Sermo members — are not aware of Sermo’s business model, which is “Sermo is free to practicing physicians. Revenue is generated as healthcare institutions, financial services firms and government agencies purchase Sermo products to access this elite group of practitioners.”
Here were some responses to Rines’ tweet:
“Sounds like @SermoTeam is willing to host docs for free in order to gather info and push products for $”
“Do docs really know their conversations are being mined?”
“I doubt docs know exactly how Sermo mines their conversations.”
“Seems many topics of late come back to transparency & the motives for not being transparent.”
“May be a blog post to be had from this.”
The last two comments are relevant to why I am writing this blog post.
Before I proceed, you should know that Sermo is a client of mine. I recently helped them promote their services to the subscribers of Pharma Marketing News, most of whom are interested in accessing Sermo’s elite group of practitioners (see the message I sent out to subscribers here: “Get $3,000 of Market Research, FREE“). I’ve also had a conversation with Daniel Palestrant, Founder and CEO of Sermo, about how pharmaceutical companies can interact with Sermo members (listen to the podcast: “Pharma, Physicians, and Sermo: A Social Media Win-Win-Win!“).
I have also wondered how happy Sermo physicians are with its policy and whether or not a majority of them approve of it (see “Pfizer has a Gold Mine in Sermo!“).
Given all the publicity and transparency about Sermo’s business model, I am surprised to see comments like the ones above and this one by “SteveBMD,” author of blog “Thought Broadcast,” who said (see “Discussing social media with physicians on Sermo“):
“Sermo is not a physician-only community,” says SteveBMD.
“Sermo generates revenue by selling access to its site to “healthcare institutions, financial services firms and government agencies.” See this link on their site: http://sermo.com/client/research/overview
“Unfortunately, this is not made clear to doctors when they sign up or participate. Instead, doctors are led to believe that this is like an “online doctors’ lounge.” A better description would be a doctors lounge with insurance companies, pharma companies, market researchers, and government agencies peeking through the window.”
This is a typical legal agreement that most of us see on Web sites, but automatically FAIL to read! If you want to become a member, you MUST agree. But what exactly are Sermo members agreeing to?
I question whether this is ENOUGH, considering that most everyone ignores these documents written in legalese — a language that repulses many of us ordinary folk, including doctors!
A Social Media Policy is not just an agreement that users must abide by. More importantly, it is a PROMISE to users from site owners/sponsors concerning how they will protect or attempt to protect user-generated content, personal conversations, interactions, and engagements with third-parties on the site. The policy should also explain how users should “behave” on the site (eg, “rules of engagement”).
Fair Social Media Practice Principles
The same should be true of the social media policies I am talking about. I hope, however, this is done on a voluntary basis by the industry rather than by new laws.
Therefore, in summary, I propose that owners and operators of online discussion sites — whether they be independent corporations such as Sermo, or hospitals, other healthcare organizations, and even pharmaceutical companies (someday) — publish SOCIAL MEDIA POLICIES that comply with as-yet-to-be-determined “fair social media practice principles.”
But what are the essential elements of “Fair Social Media Practice Principles?”
Some ideas for essential social media good practice principles include:
- A comment moderation policy that explains how discussions are reviewed before or after publication
- Qualifications for discussion moderators, if there are moderators
- How site moderators are trained regarding policies
- Rules for participation in discussions by site owner employees
- Rules for participation by third-party sponsors, clients or their agents
- How “misinformation” is defined and what the policy is for correcting such information
What do you think? Please give me your input on this by responding to my Rules for Pharma Engagement in Patient/Physician Social Networks survey. It will only take 5 minutes. I promise that when I get back from Paris, I will write up what I learned from this survey and from workshop participants in Pharma Marketing News. Your responses can be confidential (ie, anonymous) or you can opt in to being cited in the article should I publish your comments.