—Rose McKinney, APR, President, Risdall McKinney Public Relations

For an equally fascinating perspective on social media within regulated industries, I took a different seat at the Life Science Alley annual conference on December 8 – as a panelist representing the role of the marketing communications agency. Together with panelists Dorothy Gemmell , senior vice president of pharmaceutical and medical device markets at WebMD, and Tim Simard, founder and CEO of Anthurium Solutions, a medical technology company, we outlined the prevalence of social media – and rise of consumerism – within the highly regulated medical, health and device arenas. We also explored the carryover of direct-to-consumer marketing rules as these relate to social media with an overview provided by Mark Gardner, JD, associate attorney, from DuVal & Associates.

The Life Science Alley takeaways were similar to the Minnesota PRSA panel, but also included the following:

  • Consumerism is intensifying and therefore requires integration (not silos) of the various stakeholders – hospitals and health professionals, health plans, information technology companies, medical device firms, pharma and biotech, as well as state and federal policymakers.
  • The “always present” mobile access draws people into conversations and enables research.
  • Consumers, particularly with chronic conditions, want self-care resources and health coaching to manage their conditions.
  • They see advantages to technology-enabled care, but as a means to enhance human connection; it does not replace health professionals.
  • The key for social media within this regulated industry is to provide valuable content, not necessarily brand content.

For those who operate within regulated industries i.e., financial services, healthcare, publicly traded companies, there’s plenty of chatter and some initial scratching about rules for social media but it’s anything from clear and it’s likely to become even more regulated. Our challenge is to balance consumers’ immediate data-driven expectations with the increasingly regulated environment designed to protect all parties. 

So, what about the rules? Well, the rules are not going to stop us from listening to and engaging with consumers who expect valuable content from us; but the rules are going to evolve as industries determine the level of self-policing versus government and or industry involvement needed to ensure that the exchanges are fair and balanced.