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The Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative: Using Social Media Effectively & Successfully
After conducting research and speaking with people in the healthcare industry about social media I have come to recognize that one of the major barriers to the increased uptake of these technologies is fear.  People are afraid that if they engage social media they will lose control of their messages to the masses.  This is a legitimate fear, as many individuals and organizations in healthcare must retain ownership of their communications for legal, ethical and business reasons.

However, as social media slowly becomes more entrenched and influential in healthcare, it will become increasingly difficult for people in the industry to retain complete control over their messages.  While is still possible to "own" messages from development to distribution (for example, witness at the power of DTC advertising), I anticipate that this will become more difficult as people developing "consumer-generated content" retransmit and reinterpret messages developed by the healthcare industry.  (This is already happening as people turn to the Internet for healthcare-related information in increasing numbers.)

I believe that one way forward is for the industry to shift from the "command and control" strategy to what I call "engage and encourage."  In part, engagement means working aggressively with influential developers of social media so they can help spread the word about healthcare products, services and issues.  Encouragement is:

- Collaborating with social media to encourage them to transmit healthcare messages accurately and consistently

- Developing sponsored social media to help enrich and expand dialogue about healthcare-related topics.

Following is an example of what I mean. The Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative:  Using The Engage & Encourage Strategy Effectively & Successfully

Over the past few months, I have observed how Pfizer, through its Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative (PMHI), has successfully used the engage and encourage strategy to communicate about health policy and medical care. 

On its face, one might expect Pfizer to practice command and control communications when discussing sensitive healthcare-related issues.  After all, Pfizer is a global organization with many vocal critics.  However, PMHI provides Pfizer with a way to talk about these topics at "arms length" so to speak.  The organization is sponsored by Pfizer, but has its own identity and has been actively working in this area for nearly a decade.  This gives PMHI room to maneuver and experiment with social media.  An added benefit is that others at Pfizer can learn the benefits and drawbacks of social media in a "safe" environment.

From what I have seen PMHI is using blogs and online videos to communicate with its stakeholders and the public (it may producing podcasts and other forms of social media, but I have not been able to locate them).  Dr. Mike Magee, director of PMHI and vice president, Science & Medical Advocacy at Pfizer, writes the blog Health Politics With Dr. Mike Magee.   Magee started the blog, which focuses on health policy and current healthcare issues, in October 2005  It is well worth reading and subscribing to.

PMHI also develops well-produced videos on healthcare and other topics.  In July the organization started posting its videos on YouTube.  The videos, which have ranged in topics from the Avian Flu to global warming have been viewed more than 70,000 times.  These are modest numbers for YouTube, but still impressive.

There are two things to note here about PMHI's efforts:

1. PMHI is producing and distributing social media, but is retaining significant control over its messages.   As I have discussed in this article, blogs are a great way to spark and shape conversations about healthcare.

2. PMHI is unafraid encourage debate on controversial issues.  Its global warming video is a perfect example of how it is pursuing this strategy.

Overall, I think that PMHI's efforts are worth watching.  I expect that as time goes by more people will learn about what the organization is doing and take lessons from its  use of social media.

Do you have examples of individuals and organizations in healthcare that are shifting from a command and control to an engage and encourage communications strategy (see this free resource to learn more about it)?  If so, please leave a comment on this blog. 

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1 Comments/Trackbacks

I liked the highlighted difference between engagement and encouragement. Good point!

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