Pharmaceutical blogs bring customers closer

In the super-regulated world of pharmaceuticals, some of the world’s largest corporations are using digital media to get closer to customers and advocates. GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson are using blogs to engage in meaningful dialogue with people in the United States, providing a surprisingly informal channel of communication in contrast to their usually ‘polished’ corporate brand image.

The benefits of blogging are potentially huge, allowing corporate brands to communicate in soft, approachable way. Brands can start conversations about issues customers care about, and learn about what really matters to them. Blogs also provide a platform to respond rapidly to ever-changing media, consumer and political environments.

The audience defines itself

Johnson & Johnson’s corporate blog JNJBTW describes itself as “a three dimensional view of Johnson & Johnson”. Marc Monseau, a director of communications with the pharmaceutical giant and the man behind JNJBTW, says that he was surprised to discover the kind of people communicating with Johnson & Johnson through the blog:

“After doing this for a year, one of my biggest surprises was that the people who read the blog are not who I originally thought they would be — they are not just members of the media or healthcare bloggers — but include doctors, nurses, employees, competitors, retirees, supporters of J&J and detractors. It’s that the audience — and this is important — the audience is defining itself — which is different from how we’ve looked at the world in the past.”

Getting close to customers

Whilst JNJBTW provides an approachable face for Johnson & Johnson in the United States, GlaxoSmithKline’s blog alliconnect focuses exclusively on weight-loss product ‘alli’ and describes itself as “A place to talk about weight loss issues with the creators of alli”. By targeting potential or current users and prescribers of alli, the blog is able to provide in-depth, highly relevant content about a single issue.

An alliconnect post last year about the product’s adverse effects generated a storm of comments from readers of the blog – some highly critical and others advocating the product. Compare that kind of conversation with the level of interaction you might expect from the ‘contact us’ on any corporate website and you’ll begin to see just how blogging can bring a brand closer to its customers.

A worthwhile investment?

What can other businesses learn from these examples? Outside of pharmaceuticals, insights gained through closer customer interaction are helping brands to launch new products and improve customer support. Yet some marketers are still wary of blogging, perhaps because it seems too unpredictable. The truth is that the closer you get to your customers, the more you can understand and meet their real needs.

In the face of strict medical regulation from the FDA, policies on ‘adverse events’ reporting, and the communications challenges associated with being international corporations, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline continue to invest in their blogs. Clearly they consider the challenges worthwhile in the light of the benefit to the brand.

Developing relationships

I asked Johnson & Johnson’s Marc Monseau what advice he would give to others considering incorporating blogging into their communications strategy. He shared some practical advice about developing relationships:

“For those who wish to get involved, one of the most important things to do before starting out is to observe these online communities and to understand what they are talking about and what makes them work. That means reading posts and comments and understanding who is who.

“Once you do this, and start to engage with different members of these online communities, you must take pains to continue to develop these relationships — after all, the interpersonal relationships are what is important when getting involved in social networks and communities. This is about people.”

What impact are you making?

Before investing in any digital communications activities, consider what business objectives you expect to achieve. Then you can measure the impact you make on these objectives and determine the real return on your investment.

If you would like to discover what impact your online activities are having on your business objectives, our approach will provide independent insights to help you refine and improve results.

Daniel Ghinn

Daniel Ghinn is Editor of Healthcare Engagement Strategy and CEO of Creation Healthcare, the online market research consultancy for healthcare. He is a prolific writer and speaker on emerging trends healthcare engagement in the digital age.