To Blog or Not to Blog

By Malcolm Fleschner

What, you don’t have a blog yet? Well don’t you think it’s time you put down that brontosaurus burger and joined the rest of us in the 21st century, Fred Flintstone? As everyone is surely aware, blogs – short for Weblogs – are online journals or diaries kept by individuals or organizations. In just the past few years blogs have emerged as an influential new medium, whether used simply as a means for personal expression or a force for change in politics, religion, industry or any number of other arenas. The industry experts at Perseus Surveys estimate that by the end of 2005 the number of blogs will exceed 50 million.

That’s all well and good, you might say, but what does that have to do with the pharmaceutical industry? Writing recently in Pharmaceutical Executive Magazine, i-Frontier media director Debrianna Obara suggests that today’s Web-savvy pharmaceutical marketers are actively exploiting the strategic business potential blogs offer. But as she points out, there are both opportunities and risks inherent in the business of blogging. Here she identifies the pros and cons for the pharma companies considering the use of blogs.

Pros:

Information. Companies such as Google and Nike already are using blogs as a source of business intelligence. Similarly, pharma companies could develop blogs that operate as forums for patients to talk about specific brands, whether of the blog’s sponsoring company or its competitors.

Promotion. Blogs relating to specific medications, such as www.cialisblog.com, already exist. Eli Lilly uses the site to share news and disease information. Still in its infancy, this blog represents one pharma company’s attempt to harness the power of blogging to drive corporate efforts.

Internal communication. Blogs do not have to be entirely public documents. A private, password-protected blog can be an effective platform for two-way communication between the company and its sales reps.

Advertising. Topical blogs frequently are on the lookout for precious advertising dollars. Banner ads or sponsorship of the right blogs might be a new way for pharmaceutical companies to reach targeted audiences.

Cons:

Perceptions. The general public’s opinion of the pharmaceutical industry already is nearing record depths. If potential visitors to the blog view it as just another gimmick the industry is using to puff itself up, the damage might not be worth the potential benefits.

Timeliness. The Web is all about right now and for that reason people expect blogs to be updated regularly. Yet with the industry’s notoriously long legal reviews, pharma companies need to consider how they would keep a blog fresh and interesting for regular visitors.

Control. Blogs typically allow users to post their thoughts without much, if any, oversight or editing. But what do you do when users post negative comments about a product’s side effects or even patient deaths? Also, with content changing regularly how can you be sure your ad won’t appear on the same page with some criticism of your company or product. These issues all need to be vetted by regulatory, legal and marketing departments before any blog-related decisions are made at the corporate level.

As Obara points out, blogging will never be the solution to all the pharmaceutical marketer’s woes. It might even create additional headaches. Still, when done right, blogs may prove useful to pharma companies. Unfortunately, for now there are no hard-and-fast rules for what doing it right means.