Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Saving Private Wetzel

I got the chance to reminisce with my cousin Jeri, who I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Sadly, our families had been estranged for all that time. We spent the evening trying to piece together the reasons behind the split. Each of us contributing bits and pieces of family lore hastily whispered to us as children when we asked the adults uncomfortable questions. Like a pastiche, we hoped our layers of story would form some sort of clearer picture of our family situation.

Jeri brought with her all sorts of family pictures and memorabilia that had been entrusted to her as the oldest “child” on her side. The most interesting piece was my grandfather’s WWI discharge papers. He was an ambulance driver in Veneto, Italy. The English major in me sighed with disappointment when we couldn’t find Ernest Hemingway’s name on the thin onion skin paper listing the men in his company.

Then came the question, “Did he ever talk to you?” Of course the answer was, “No.” (Can you hear the buzz of my W.A.S.P.y roots?) Over the course of dinner with my parents, we peppered my father with questions about his father. We came away with little.

We got fragments of information like, “He was really respected at work.” “I think there is some sort of plaque on a maintenance building at Temple University.” (My grandfather was the head of the campus Buildings & Grounds department.) One bit of family lore was that when Grandfather Wetzel retired it took TWO men to replace him. (We Wetzels are hard workers).

Of course my cousin and I resolved that our families would be different! They wouldn’t have to hunt and peck for the basic details about their ancestors. Our children would have a strong sense of the individuals in their families. But I realized that they will anyway, because my generation will leave a strong digital footprint.

My grandchildren will only have to look at my Facebook, Linked-In pages and my Twitter feed to get a sense of whom I was. (Although I do hope to make more of a personal impact on them when they arrive – hopefully not for at least another 10 years).

In a way, social media has made it easier for more of us to leave an indelible mark because there is the potential for someone to hear and know us for generations to come. With social media, the answer to the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?” is a resounding, “Yes”.

Social media enables us to create our own, “Fifteen minutes of fame.” We don’t need mass media to do it for us. Nor do we have to rely on sketchy memories as in the case of trying to piece together the man my grandfather really was. We can create our own rich pastiche of our words, our pictures and our interactions, giving generations to come at least a fighting chance of understanding who we were.



Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Instead of Seeing the Glass Half Empty, Invent a New Kind of Vessel

Tom Friedman has a great piece in today's Op-Ed section of the Sunday New York Times. It's about how, during times of economic crisis such as we're currently going through, necessity truly is the mother of invention.

Tough times force new thinking. And new thinking brings about new products, new industries, and new opportunities. He mentions a number of success stories spawned by challenging times of the past. Microsoft was one example.

Seeing opportunity in tough times is what brought Dorothy and me to create Extrovertic. Dorothy has always been a change agent, I've always been open to change, and the Great Recession has given us license to put some of our theories to work. Businesses are desperate to hear new ideas that can provide them with more bang for their buck these days and our passion is devising new ways to give them that and more.

Challenging times can be scary. But when you're using them as motivation to do bigger, better things, challenging times are really just... well, challenging.


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Facing the Facts about Facebook

Last week, I burst into Mark’s office saying, “Extrovertic has to have a Facebook fan page. What a great way to show our prospective clients all the cool things we could do for them!” Sadly, the only thing my statement demonstrated was how ingrained Web 1.0 thinking is in the marketing mind.

I made the classic mistake many marketers do: I just jumped right into the latest technology without thinking through the strategy behind what I was trying to do. Who was our target audience? What did we want them to do/think/feel/talk differently as a result of coming to our page?

And more importantly in the realm of social media, I was focused on what I thought clients should know about us rather than the potential value Extrovertic could provide our visitors. How were we enabling our current and/or prospective clients to do more of what they wanted to do?

Well, it’s going to take some time to think through these important questions, but luckily there are some companies who can serve as inspiration. Great customer focused organizations keep their eye squarely on the customer even on their brand fan pages. In a recent Mashable post, Callan Green details 5 companies who do it right.

One of my favorites is the Starbucks fan page. Here, Starbucks doesn’t think like an advertiser with a message to deliver but more like a magazine editor or TV station manager, planning out over time interesting, highly varied posts that seek to engage users. There are the usual corporate announcements, but the posts are peppered with highlights of discussions with bloggers, invitations for fans to share their morning routines and opportunities to learn about coffee (something caffeine addicts like me are truly interested in).

And then there’s Red Bull. One interesting component is how Red Bull populates its page with tweets from famous athletes such as Shawn White rather than just with news from their brand. Tweets from high-energy people from their favorite energy drink.

Beyond the customer focus that this retweeting demonstrates, Red Bull also shows the importance of “curating” – leveraging great content that others have developed. One of the great things about social media is that you do not have to produce all of your own content. In fact, it’s often better if you don’t.

Finally, the Dell Facebook page is a terrific example of providing value for your customers. I read about it in a InSocialMedia whitepaper, The Coming Change in Social Media Business Applications. The Dell page is all about providing their prospective small business clients with an eight part basic primer on how to use social media. It’s not about Dell, it is about their customers (who leave the page better educated, courtesy of Dell).

These fan pages demonstrate the seismic shift in thinking that has to occur when using social media. Marketers have to move away from selling to customers to providing them with customer service.

And, as my own experience shows, the shift takes some hyper-vigilance for those of us who have been in the sales mode for most of our careers.

Any thoughts?



Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 19, 2009

Blogger in Chief?

A long, long time ago, in a Presidential administration far, far away (okay, about 7 months ago), social media was just another thing on the “Internets.”

But now we have a White House that understands through firsthand experience what a powerful tool Facebook is for building brand advocates. Nary a day goes by without a few missives from the Oval Office to its nearly 253,000 fans currently on the network. And now they’ve even added live video chat.

But President Obama isn’t the only government official who has wholeheartedly embraced Web 2.0.

His troops are now marching to the same beat. Wired.com reports that the Army has ordered its U.S. bases to stop blocking soldiers’ access to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. The intent is to share the Army experience in a more authentic way, through the eyes of the soldiers, themselves.

And NASA, not to be lost in the web space, has recently launched something other than a shuttle or satellite. Concerned that Facebook may pose a security risk, but recognizing the need for some kind of online outlet for their employees to engage and collaborate with each other, it has introduced a secure social network of its own.

Not to be presumptuous, but can you imagine the State Department’s interest in the role of Twitter and Facebook in the organizing and reporting on of the unrest in Iran?


Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pew's Numbers are Whew! Numbers

The Pew Foundation recently issued another of their insightful studies on the Internet and Health entitled, “The Social Life of Health Information.” It is chock-full of amazing numbers:

61% of adults now look for health information vs. only 25% in 2000 (Pew calls these people e-patients)

60% of e-patients said they or someone they know has been helped by following medical advice or health information found on the Internet vs. only 31% in 2006.

45% of Internet users have looked online for information about Rx or OTC drugs vs. 34% in 2002

60% of e-patients (37% of US adults) have done at least one of eleven social media activities related to health care such as reading blogs, posting comments or consulting on-line rankings of physicians

While the absolute numbers are impressive, it is the rapid pace of change that really grabbed my attention. According to the study, we can expect this forward momentum to continue, particularly in regards to the adoption of social media based on two trends they spotted:

Mobile technology is associated with deeper engagement in social media” and is expected to rise in the coming years

· •• , • Adults, 18-49, are more likely to engage in social technologies related to health than other demographics and will inevitably start experiencing health issues in the next few years

Hopefully, Pew’s numbers will help strengthen marketers’ resolve to start experimenting with social media. So often I hear, “My target isn’t using social media yet. When they do, I’ll think about a social media plan.” True, there is a lot of hype around social media. We may well be in what the Gartner Group calls “the Peak of Inflated Expectations” phase of their famous technology Hype Cycle, but that doesn’t mean marketers can’t wade through the hype to produce meaningful results.

Consider adopting the approach of “serious experimentation/managed expectations” that C.S. Rollyson describes in his socialmedia.biz post. Using lessons from the Web 1.0 bust/boom cycle, Rollyson predicts that social media will start gaining significant traction in 2011 and beyond.

And just like Web 1.0 before it, he predicts that the techniques of Web 2.0 will become mainstream. The time is now for innovator companies to begin an aggressive, yet thoughtful approach to building their social media competency. As Rollyson points out, “Imagine if you had realized the Internet’s full potential in 1995, and you had invested with that purpose in mind. This is the opportunity that executives have today with Web 2.0.”

1) The experiments are strategically relevant to the brand

2) Clear expectations are set about how the initiative will change consumer behavior

In the case of health care, will your initiative encourage positive talk about a brand? Increase patient knowledge about a condition? Or, drive the consumer to ask a particular question about the availability of a new treatment option?

Certainly, it makes sense to think critically about all the hype surrounding social media. Social media alone won’t solve all the problems healthcare marketers face. And it won’t be a wholesale replacement for today’s media or even take the place of other important sources of healthcare information, such as physicians, family and friends.

But if the Pew study teaches us anything, it is that consumers have an insatiable interest in health information and are rapidly embracing Web 2.0 to satisfy their non-stop need to know.

Marketers just have to match that passion with an equally strong conviction to provide the right information.



Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My French Connection

One way to reach out and really connect with consumers like never before is House Party. It’s what we at Extrovertic call a “bricks & clicks” social media solution and we’re very excited about it. Companies engage House Party to organize 1,000-15,000 consumer parties nationwide, on a single night, centered on a product-related theme. The idea is to get the hosts and their guests to talk about their experiences on and off-line.

There have been “Alli” low-fat food tastings, Hersey “Bliss” pampering parties and SC Johnson spring-cleaning parties.

At Extrovertic, we think House Party is a perfect venue for generating positive talk about Rx and OTC products. If you can get 18,000 women to apply to host a party to generate talk around cleaning products, surely you could get them interested in osteoporosis products, sleep aids, children’s and pet medicines, or even dermal fillers?

One of the questions clients always ask is, “Why on earth would someone want to host one of these house parties?” So I decided to find out for myself and host a “French Wine and Cheese” party that House Party was organizing on behalf of the French government.

Turns out I had a lot of fun doing it, gained some knowledge about French wine & cheese, and reignited my love of entertaining. My husband and I used to entertain a lot, but between kids, dogs, house and jobs, all that socializing went by the wayside.

As a House Party Hostess, you get the feeling of “being in the know” and for some of us extroverts, that is a part of our identity (sometimes an annoying part. I admit I once got a prize for “most knowledgeable” at a company sales event, which wasn’t meant to flatter me, I am afraid!).

One of the things I discovered on the company’s blog for party-givers is that there are many repeat hostesses, so I am not alone in my compulsive “need to share.” The French “concierge” who answered people’s pre-party questions on the national online party page was also a valuable resource. What an engaging and personal way to get consumers connected to a company or product.

Further knowledge could be obtained by downloading “party favors”–tip sheets and signage. As a hostess, you earn points for each activity that puts you in the running for a prize. In my case, a French vacation. (Or maybe not. I was a relative slacker who earned 344 points versus the national leader who blew me away by wracking up 169,669 points.)

I found that my guests really wanted to talk about the company/government sponsorship and the products being offered (in the case of wine & cheese, the appeal is obvious). I spent at least 30-45 minutes explaining the concept and answering my friends’ questions. And even though some of our talk was “tongue in cheek,” I bet that the next time my friends visit a wine store, they’ll find themselves checking out the French wine section.

Some people may worry that a party centered on a health condition or medication could be trivializing. I would argue the opposite: what better way than a party to help bring healthcare front and center in our daily lives?

And imagine the power these newly engaged brand advocates would have when let loose to chat about their their great experiences online.

And, as health guru Dr. Roizen, suggests, the only way spiraling healthcare costs will be brought under control is to emotionally engage consumers in making needed lifestyle changes, including taking prescription medicines.

So how about a healthy lifestyles party for the Woodstock generation?

Any takers?



Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Kind of Healthcare Revolution

Pharma Guy ‘s recent post about his experience on a social media panel struck a chord. While the panel was certain that social media would change the consumer communication landscape, it also concluded that for social media to experience dramatic uptake in the pharma world, marketing as a whole would have to make sweeping changes.

Similar thoughts had recently been percolating in my head. Certainly, there are a number of ways that the traditional marketing framework in which we operate (AIDA) should change to leverage the power of social media. Shifting our objectives from generating awareness to creating talk-worthy programs is one example.

The most necessary change however, is that marketing departments have to reorient themselves from being responsible for creating messages to receiving them. A company’s ability to respond to a crisis has been proven time and again to increasingly shaping the public’s perception of it. Consider Domino’s swift and effective response to the unfortunate employee escapades on YouTube (see Mark’s 4/16 post).

Currently, social media is the sole providence of corporate communications, which for many pharma companies exists in a completely separate silo from marketing. In fact, Mark and I have visited a few companies where the people with whom we met were flabbergasted to learn from us that their corporate communications people already had made some forays into social media.

What’s needed is some sort of “Customer Advocacy Department” within Marketing. It should include people skilled in marketing, medical, communications, alliance development and customer service. This department would be responsible for monitoring, responding and engaging with the online communities that are so crucial to shaping a brand’s digital footprint.

This idea has its genesis in a Customer Advocacy Department I was part of at Pfizer in the late ‘90s. While the idea was solid, our department’s mission was vague – the staffing was wrong and the group was kept separate from Marketing. Perhaps the concept was also a bit ahead of its time. Our department did, however, accomplish some important work, particularly in the area of health literacy.

Pharmaceutical marketing departments have traditionally altered their composition to meet the changing communication opportunities. When the DTC regulations changed in 1997, Consumer Marketing departments started springing up everywhere.

With the growth of social media, particularly in the older demographics that are the heaviest users of pharmaceutical products, the need for departments that are “programmed to receive” will grow exponentially. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, "Nearly all of the recent growth in social networking has come among older people." Yesterday’s New York Times had an article about the positive role social networking sites play in the lives of home-bound seniors.

In it, Joseph F. Coughlin, Director of the Age Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “The new future of old age is about staying in society, staying in the workplace and staying very connected. And technology is going to be a very big part of that, because the new reality is, increasingly, a virtual reality.”

Despite the growth in social media, it may take the issuance of social media guidelines by the FDA to kick pharmaceutical social media usage into high gear (as it did for DTC advertising). However, business (and more importantly someone’s health) slips away a little every day that the promise of social media is ignored.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read posts on message boards like, “Wow, after reading about all the side effects everyone here has had with Drug X, I am stopping my medicine now!”

A Customer Advocacy Department – if such a thing existed today– is where these patients could obtain some useful balance and perhaps not delay going off their medicines until speaking with their healthcare professionals. Maybe listening and responding to customer concerns can help flatten out those precipitous drops in adherence every drug experiences, particularly after 3 months. What about reconfiguring our databases to be programmed to receive email rather than to simply send out the latest blast?

Maybe social media is the compliance tool that we have all been waiting for?



Bookmark and Share