If you are a regular reader of Pharma Marketing Blog, you know that I generally do not like awards that are given to pharmaceutical marketers by trade publications. Such awards are very suspect because of the inherent conflicts of interests involved — the winners tend to be the agencies that advertise the most in the sponsoring publication or purchase big page ads announcing that they won the award.

Recently, Dose of Digital, which maintains a wiki list of pharma and healthcare organization social media initiatives, hosted the “2010 Dose of Digital Dosie Award” to be given to the most deserving sites on the wiki list. You can find the finalists here. The winners will be announced at the upcoming 2nd Annual Social Communications & Healthcare Conference in New York City. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend that conference. I am sure attendees will have fun despite my absence 😉

The Dosie award process was a bit unique in that the finalists were determined solely by soliciting votes among Dose of Digital’s Twitter followers and blog visitors. The voting process did not require any identifying information, so we will never truly know much about the population who cast votes. I am sure everything was on the up and up, but contenders were allowed to promote themselves to their followers on Twitter and game the system in other ways.

It’s safe to say, however, that most of the people who cast votes for the Dosie were pharma professionals, marketing agency people, and social media activists. In other words, people who should know what constitutes a “winning” or outstanding social media application or social networking site.

The finalists in the Best Brand Sponsored Patient Community (Communities created by a pharma or healthcare company for a brand or corporate effort) are:

  • Accu-Check Diabetes Link (Roche)
  • Children with Diabetes (J&J Lifescan)
  • Crohn’s and Me (UCB)
  • Diabetes Handprint (J&J Lifescan)
  • Voices of Diabetes (Novo Nordisk)

Wow! This list is completely dominated by diabetes sites! That’s not surprising. People with diabetes have long engaged in online social networks.

Between 1996 and 2000 I was the owner of the DIAB-EHLB listserv, which was an email-based discussion group for people with diabetes, diabetes educators, caregivers, and endocrinologists. It was sponsored by Hoechst Marion Roussel, a pharma company that later merged with other companies that eventually formed Sanofi-Aventis. “EHLB” was short for “Electronic Highlights Bulletin,” which was a source of highlights from medical conferences such as the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association. Highlights, which were produced live at the meeting, were pushed out to the list of subscribers (see here) during the conference. Subscribers could also post their own comments to the entire list and anyone in the list could respond to those comments (see this sample discussion thread about Hemoglobin A1c). It was a lively community.

Most of the “social network” Dosie finalists, with the exception of Children with Diabetes, are “Faux Social Media” sites that cannot hold a candle to even my primitive diabetes listerv in terms of real conversation! I am not trying to get praise for DIAB-EHLB. I am pointing out that these modern-day pharma-sponsored networks actually represent a step BACKWARD along the path toward true pharma-sponsored conversation with stakeholders.

Let me use  Novo Nordisk’s Voices of Diabetes to illustrate my point.

I just registered with Voices of Diabetes, which publishes stories submitted by registered users. The registration form is nothing more than a market research ploy. No self-respecting, truly social network would require information that this site requires such as your name, physical address, age, when you were diagnosed with diabetes, and what drugs you are taking. You are also REQUIRED to agree to have information from Novo Nordisk sent to you (see registration confirmation screen below)!

I was not permitted to complete my registration unless I checked off one of the boxes to receive information from Novo Nordisk. If I were a real person with diabetes wishing to share my story on this site, this would stop me in my tracks! But, I am a sucker for punishment and opted to receive information in English.

I wanted to submit a comment about a story already published, so I clicked on “If you would like to comment on this story, click here to share your voice…” I expected to start a discussion about Catherine M’s “Finding Motivation” story (“It has taken me years to come to grips with my diabetes. Talk about denial. Then I went on insulin and my sugars are coming down, which is motivating me. It definitely is a day-by-day adventure.”).

But, instead of being able to post a comment like “Good luck with managing your diabetes, I hope my sister finds motivation to deal with her condition too.”, I was only asked to Share Your Story and presented with these rules, aka “Guidelines”:

Please use the following form to submit your story. You will first have to pick the “category” of your story. This may place your story in one of the many areas of this website.

Voices of Diabetes Story Guidelines:

1. Stories must be no less than 1 paragraph and no more than 8

2. Stories must not contain any drug or device names (neither Novo Nordisk nor any other company)

3. Stories must not contain information on any “reactions” or adverse events relating to the use of insulin or other types of therapy

Please note: The submission of your story does not guarantee its publication on the website.

Also, I had to agree to the following “Individual Release and Waiver of Rights”:

I hereby irrevocably grant Novo Nordisk and those acting with its authority the following:

1. All rights to use my name (first name, last initial only), voice, likeness, age, city, state and/or image;
2. The unrestricted, absolute, perpetual, worldwide right (but not the obligation) to use, copy, modify, edit, create derivative works, display, transmit, perform, distribute, publish, exhibit and otherwise use the submitted materials (“the Materials”) in any and all media or form of communication, whether now existing or hereafter developed, including on Novo Nordisk’s Web sites or those Web sites owned by Novo Nordisk affiliates or anyone acting with Novo Nordisk’s authority (the “Web Sites”), all for the purpose of publicizing Novo Nordisk’s programs (the “Purpose”).
I waive any right to royalties or other compensation arising from or related to the use of the Materials.
I acknowledge Novo Nordisk’s right to crop, splice, treat and edit the Materials at its sole discretion. I waive my right to inspect or approve the finished product, now and in the future, whether that use is known or unknown to me.
Novo Nordisk reserves the right to discontinue the use of the Materials without notice to me.
I represent and warrant that I have full power and authority to execute this Individual Release and Waiver of Rights (the “Release”). I hereby waive all rights and release Novo Nordisk from any claim or cause of action, whether now known or unknown, for defamation, invasion of right to privacy, publicity or personality or any similar matter, or based upon or relating to the use and exploitation of the Materials as contemplated herein, including but not limited to any reuse, distortion, blurring, alteration, optical illusion, or use in composite form, either intentionally or otherwise, that may occur or be produced in production of the finished product.
*I have read this Release before checking this box, and I fully understand the contents, meaning, and impact of this Release. (Check box must be clicked for your story to be submitted.)

No wonder that the latest story was dated January 9, 2010! This site is dead to me and probably dead to every person with diabetes who would like to share his or her story. Which leads me to ask: Why is this site on the Dosie list of finalists? Sure, there are very few “Brand Sponsored Patient Communities” to choose from. But we need to have some MINIMUM requirements for sites to be classified as “communities.” My opinion is that this minimum should be “real conversation.”

So, that’s why I don’t like awards. Defenders of these awards will say that we must reward even the most elementary attempts that pharma is making to have online conversations despite all the regulatory obstacles that they face. Well, then maybe we should call these the “Close But No Cigar Awards!”