Pharma's Facebook

July 1, 2009
Peter Houston

Peter Houston is Editorial Director at Advanstar Communications in Europe. phouston@advanstar.com

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, Pharmaceutical Technology Europe-07-01-2009, Volume 21, Issue 7

Social media is big news. From Facebook to Twitter, individuals are embracing the opportunity to participate in online publishing at an unprecedented rate. Communities of users interact globally, minutetominute within huge databases of content that they themselves create.

Social media is big news. From Facebook to Twitter, individuals are embracing the opportunity to participate in online publishing at an unprecedented rate. Communities of users interact globally, minutetominute within huge databases of content that they themselves create.

The social media revolution has even spread to the pathologically-cautious pharma market. According to Lisa Flaiz of digital agency Razorfish, several pharma companies are experimenting with branded Facebook pages and YouTube channels.

But don't get too excited; pharma-sponsored patient communities are a long way from being ubiquitous on the internet. The industry still can't quite get its collective head around the removal of the 'learned intermediary' and is definitely not ready to turn the supply of drug information over to the patient community.

So what good is social media to the pharma sector? Well, if we leave marketing and patient education to one side and assume that there's no real value in a 'Texas Hold Em' tournament on Facebook, professional networking is the most exciting Web 2.0 activity for pharmaceutical executives.

Five things you can do today to improve your LinkedIn experience.

Dominating the online professional networking space is LinkedIn, the world's largest network with more than 35 million members worldwide; 9 million of which are in Europe. LinkedIn is basically a database of individual profiles. Users are provided with the tools to manage and maintain their profile, connect to others on the network, share knowledge, expertise and potential opportunities.

"The subject matter of LinkedIn is the individual. While people talk about their companies and products, the main thing that you'll find with the site is people," says Steven Tylock, author of The Linkedin Personal Trainer.

Tylock explains that LinkedIn helps bridge onetoone introductions that may lead to any number of activities and that the real benefit of online networking is the way it extends the networker's reach.

"You would never call 200 people to ask if they know anyone at XYZ company. It just isn't practical," says Tylock. "It is easy to search through that many people on LinkedIn; then you are calling one person to ask them to introduce you to their contact at XYZ company."

Bucking broader recessionary trends, LinkedIn is expanding internationally. Earlier this month, it added a dedicated German site to service 500000 German users already registered. The company launched sites in France and Spain last year.

LinkedIn's main rival in Europe is Xing, the German networking site, which was formerly known as OpenBC (Open Business Community). Xing has 6.5 million users, but with most of its users in Germany and Austria, it appears to be struggling somewhat against Linkedin's global dominance. The good news for Xing users is that the cashpositive business has a new CEO and he has been tasked to pursue a more aggressive international expansion strategy with a fighting fund of $50 million at his disposal. Watch this space.

For the time being, however, LinkedIn is where it's at for international pharma; the sheer size of the LinkedIn network is staggering. My own limited network shows almost 475000 potential pharmaceutical industry contacts that I am just one or two contacts away from.

What do you do once you find people though? "Because LinkedIn is such a personal space it can be difficult to approach people and difficult for them to realize the benefit of connecting with you," says Matt Rhodes, Head of Client Services at the UK-based social media agency, FreshNetworks. "This is where online communities really come to the fore. Whilst social networks are about 'me', online communities are about 'us'. Profiles and personal connections take second place to a shared idea, interest, focus or topic of discussion."

Rhodes says this is where LinkedIn's groups function comes into play. "Although LinkedIn is primarily a social network, a 'me' space based on profiles, the groups facility allows more of the 'us' networking that you get from an online community," he says.

A quick search of pharmaceutical related groups on LinkedIn turns up 558, ranging from the Pharma Connections Business Development group with more than 6000 members to the newly formed Orchid Community for Neglected Diseases Drug Development.

Pharma Connections founder Mark Wilbur is evangelical about the power of online networking in the pharma space, not least about the role online networking can have in filling the pharma pipeline. Wilbur, who runs groups on LinkedIn and Xing, and is developing his own business development portal, cites drug executives at more than one company using online professional networks to look for licensing opportunities that will deliver shortterm revenues.

"Only 2 years ago, I could find little to no activity from any real decision maker on LinkedIn, OpenBC (Xing) or Plaxo," says Wilbur. "Now, they come to me. I've got senior level licensing managers joining my groups on LinkedIn. Everybody is searching for something out there."

Meanwhile, Lluis Ballel is searching for ways to achieve no less than "the critical mass necessary to make an effective impact on global health". Ballel, Principal Scientist and Project Leader for Tuberculosis Drug Development at GlaxoSmithKline in Madrid (Spain), founded the Orchid Community on LinkedIn to help in the fight against neglected diseases. "The scientific community is quite fragmented. When you have an idea or a technology demand, it is difficult to identify the right partner."

With 150 international members joining in less than 1 month, he now has a 'database' of potential drug development partners. The Orchid group also hosts online discussions relating to the development of drugs for neglected diseases, such as Malaria, Tuberculosis, Leishmaniasis, Trypanosomiasis and Chagas Disease.

Ballel explains that you may know people in your own field, but be totally unaware of people working on the same problem in different disciplines. "If this community becomes big enough and can encompass a significant variety of expertise, it could help give raise to new partnerships and projects."

Drug development for neglected diseases is a truly honourable goal, but the most common realworld outcome on LinkedIn is a new job.

Adam Pearson of specialist recruiters Infinity Pharma says LinkedIn has become essential in his search for quality candidates. "It's always open on my taskbar to quickly search for candidates or find a certain person as and when I need to. For recruiters, the more connections you have the easier your job."

So is LinkedIn just a fancy, interactive Rolodex, more about helping people find a better job than doing a better job?

"It is another way of keeping in touch," says Professor John Finch, "but it also allows some merging and visibility of one another's networks." Finch leads a multidisciplinary research group at the University of Strathclyde Business School (UK), studying how people do business networking.

"Each connection is typically about something, even if it's a project that we worked on together 5 years ago. There's a lot there to be unpacked should the occasion arise," says Finch.

Peter Houston is Editorial Director at Advanstar Communications Ltd in Europe.

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