Awarding Excellence in Social Media Marketing Leadership

Pharmaguy's Social Media Pioneer Award
Sponsored by ExL Pharma and the 4th Annual Digital Pharma East Conference

If you are a regular reader of Pharma Marketing Blog, you know that I generally do not like awards sponsored by pharma trade publications (see “Awards. What Are They Good For?”). Such awards are somewhat 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 that purchase big page ads announcing that they won the award.

Not all awards, of course, are self-aggrandizing “slaps on the back” among a close circle of colleagues. Dose of Digital’s “2010 Dose of Digital Dosie Award” for the best healthcare/pharmaceutical social media sites depended on a more open and transparent process. First, anybody could add sites to the list of contenders via a wiki site. Then Dose of Digital opened up the voting process to anyone who cared to vote. You can find the winners here.

Still, I find some problems with awards like the Dosie.

First of all, many of the contenders for the Dosie Award were not true social media sites in that they do not allow comments or “likes” (Facebook). This is true of the majority of finalists in the Best Brand Sponsored Patient Community (Communities created by a pharma or healthcare company for a brand or corporate effort). The finalists in this category were:

  • 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)

All of these “social network” Dosie finalists, with the exception of Children with Diabetes, which went on to win the Gold award, are “Faux Social Media” sites that don’t embrace what makes social media truly social. I, and others, have often criticized such forays into social media as being “inauthentic” because no real dialogue is allowed (see, for example, “Pharma “Social Networks”: Close But No Cigar Award“). Without the dialogue, social media campaigns are not likely to reach full potential by “going viral,” which is the point recently made by my Twitter friend Jonathan Richman during an #hcsmeu discussion last Friday. “Here’s a hint for pharma,” said Jon, “Nothing will go viral if you don’t allow ‘Likes’ or comments. Guaranteed.” Jonathan, by the way, was the creator of the Dosie Awards.

Another problem with these awards is that many of the sites that receive awards “go dark.” The Sanofi-Aventis GoInsulin YouTube Channel, for example, became unavailable soon after it won the Gold Dosie award.

The Pharmaguy Social Media Pioneer Award
Nevertheless, defenders of pharma “social media” site awards insist 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. I agree. But instead of having awards for the work product, why not give awards to the pioneers who have lead the way to create these sites? We can learn more from how these pioneers overcame the obstacles to launch a social media project than from the end result – even if the end result is flawed or faux. People tend to live much longer than their creations and pharma social media pioneers are no exception. They may move on to new positions and spread their influence far and wide.

To better recognize the value of these pioneers, I propose the Pharmaguy Pharma Social Media Pioneer Award.

When discussing the Social Media Pioneer Award on Twitter, at least one person (@wiltonbound) suggested that the process should be “Open to all…no restrictions. Innovation knows no boundaries.” I responded that my goal is not to award innovation, but courage in the face of boundaries! I also do not wish to get into the business of giving awards to agencies and consultants because of the inherent conflict of interest I would have. Many agencies that would qualify for such an award are my paying clients (ie, Pharma Marketing News advertisers). I probably can make a lot more money giving my clients awards, but I don’t think it best serves the interests of my readers.

What’s With the Hawaiian Shirt?
Let me explain the Hawaiian shirt motif of the award. Around the time that the FDA announced it would hold a public hearing regarding regulation of pharma’s use of the Internet and social media, I started appearing at conferences in a yellow Hawaiian shirt, which was left over from a Hunter S. Thompson Halloween costume (see “Pharma Social Media Crips vs. Legal/Regulatory Bloods: Call for a ‘Peace’ Conference” for a sighting of me in the shirt at the 3rd Annual Digital Pharma East Conference). I also considered wearing the shirt when I made my presentation to the FDA at the November, 2009 meeting (see “Fear and Loathing in Washington, DC”), but out of respect for the FDA and the audience, I opted for a traditional suit and tie.

Although I didn’t wear my Hawaiian shirt at the FDA hearing, it became an emblem for standing out from the crowd, which is a necessary trait for a social media marketing pioneer. I think a Hawaiian shirt motif befits, therefore, what the Pharmaguy Pharma Social Media Pioneer Award stands for.

The Nominees Are…
I have several people in mind as contenders for this award (see the end of this post), but first let me discuss what I consider to be the qualifications for nominees.

What are the qualifications to be nominated to receive this prestigious award?

First, a nominee must work or have worked within an FDA-regulated pharmaceutical, medical device, or biotech company when he or she pioneered in social media marketing or non-branded communications or was an advocate for such. Although there are many people in agencies that are true social media pioneers and who have been involved in many pharma social media projects, only the insider has the experience we are looking for. The insider has to contend with many stakeholders inside the organization and is ultimately responsible for the project. Consultants and agencies do not have nearly as much skin in the game as do insiders.

Although some pharma social media pioneers have subsequently moved on to other positions in non-pharma companies, they are still eligible for consideration as nominees for the Pharmaguy Pharma Social Media Pioneer Award.

Second, a nominee must have been a true social media pioneer. By that I mean someone who has been involved from the early days in marshaling the forces necessary to ultimately build a social media campaign. No matter if the campaign has been a failure. We often learn more from our failures than from our successes. Above all, we want nominees who have learned and who can share their learnings with us.

Third, although it is not necessary that a nominee to have experienced a “Mack Attack” such as that experienced by Novo Nordisk’s Ambre Morley (see “Novo Nordisk’s Branded (Levemir) Tweet is Sleazy Twitter Spam!”), it can’t hurt, especially if that person has survived and gone on to be interviewed by me (eg, “Novo Nordisk’s Race With Insulin Campaign: It’s Not Just About Twitter”).

The type of social media that a nominee has been involved with is immaterial as long as it is one or more of the following: a blog, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a network (community), a YouTube channel, etc.

That’s about it for qualifications.

Who Will Nominate Candidates and Determine Who Wins an Award?
Since this award has my Twitter name associated with it, I take ultimate responsibility for who to consider for this award and who wins an award. I already have several candidates in mind (see below).

Pharmaguy's Social Media Pioneer Award

However, I also depend upon my readers and colleagues to assist me. You can vote for my nominations and write-in other candidates using the online form here. Not only your vote, but the comments you add will go a long way awards influencing me, especially if you offer details that back up your choices. I especially need help identifying former pharma people who may be working at agencies, but who did a lot of their social media pioneering while employed at a pharmaceutical company.

Ultimately, I will use my best judgment and experience to decide who is qualified to enter the contest and who wins an award. My decision is final.

There will be three winners represented by different colors: YELLOW, ORANGE, and GREEN. The first place winner receives the YELLOW Hawaiian Shirt Award, of course. Second and third place winners receive ORANGE and GREEN shirts, respectively. Sorry, there is no “Mr. PINK” as in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs movie.

NOTE: It occurs to me that many pharma marketing initiatives – including social media initiatives – are the result of teamwork within the organization. For example, a SM Pioneer may operate behind the scenes to support a pioneering product manager who makes the decision. Both are pioneers and should be rewarded. It is possible, therefore, that several people may share the same award. I also recognize the fact that outside consultants and agencies may have played a critical role. When appropriate, these pioneers will also receive honorable mention when the awards are announced.

Let me start the process by nominating several people that I know and have interacted with listed in alphabetically by last name. You can click on each name to learn more about this person and add comments. More names will be added as the nominations continue. Please add your nominations and/or votes here.

For the most up-to-date list, see Nominees for The Pharmaguy Social Media Award.