I had the huge privilege of being invited to participate in a panel discussion on health activism & social media at healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson yesterday (Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010). The other panelists were diabetes activist Allison Blass (@amblass) and rheumatoid arthritis butt-kicker Kelly Young (@rawarrior).

First, that I was asked was a significant honor – for that I have to thank Alicia Staley (@stales) and Jack Barrette (@healthyjack), Founder & CEO of WEGO Health, a powerful online community where health activists and patients connect to help educate and empower each other.

Also in attendance were two other terrific folks from WEGO Health: Marie Connelly and Clay Gran, whose enthusiasm and savvy make me think that WEGO is well on its way to becoming the Google/Yahoo of health activism.

Another big thank you goes to Johnson & Johnson. I, and legions of other communications/PR consultants, have long used J&J’s reaction during the Tylenol poisoning scare in 1982 as a case study in well-handled crisis communications. J&J may have made some goofs in their initial reaction to the recent McNeill Labs recall issue, but that’s a very small bump in a long history of good corporate citizenship.

What I found the most heartening about the discussion – other than the fact that we were having the conversation, which was wonderful in and of itself – were the common themes that emerged:

  • Be real, be transparent
  • Share actionable, valuable information
  • Engage with us as people
  • Support the community – yours and the ones you engage with

Each one of us – Allison, Kelly, and yours truly – made those points in the slides we prepared for the session. The beauty part there was we didn’t see each other’s input until the session itself – we were in authentic alignment on each and every issue.

And the J&J team in attendance – brand management leaders, corporate legal eagles, marketing & communications directors – were highly engaged in the conversation, asking questions and seeking clarification that made me think they were planning on taking action on our recommendations.

It doesn’t get any better than that in the corporate communications world.

One point that I felt I had to make during the conversation – which, by the way, stretched to three hours – was that the focus on a cure for cancer was wasting a lot of time and treasure that could be better used to develop meaningful and effective early detection for ovarian, pancreatic, lung, and other cancers that are almost always found too late for life-saving treatment.

Cancer’s a living organism. It evolves and changes. Finding it is more important than curing it – find it, treat it, stay alive.

If someone’s dedicated to the word “cure”, I recommend they work on curing chronic conditions…like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

And share that commitment with their communities on healthcare social media.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it…

Social Media Engagement & Big Pharma: Key Conversations

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