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Sep 4
Depression Education, Cause Alliances & Social Media Communications -- Part VI

This article represents the final installment of a six-part series focusing on the Wyeth-sponsored non-profit coalition Depression Is Real.  To learn more about this series, please click here.


Depression Education, Cause Alliances &
Social Media Communications: My Thoughts

Earlier this year, a number of advocacy groups distributed a letter to the CEOs ofthinker.jpeg major pharmaceutical companies and the drug industry trade groups PhRMA and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. The purpose of this letter was to encourage pharma companies to reveal information about their global contributions to non-profit organizations.  

To date, industry response to the letter has been mixed.  However, notably, Eli Lilly and Company wrote the group and said that it plans to disclose information about its global contributions “beginning sometime in 2008.”  

Despite this progress, the commitment to disclosure and transparency goes beyond publishing information about charitable contributions.  Sometimes it involves drawing back the curtain on how and why an alliance between a non-profit organization and drug company was established.  It can also include answering tough questions about why the partnership should be viewed as credible.  

When I approached Wyeth and members of the Depression is Real Coalition about writing a series focusing on their alliance I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would they decline my invitation to speak publicly about the program?  Moreover, would they respond to my questions candidly?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.  Wyeth spokesperson Gwen Fisher was more than willing to answer difficult questions about her company's motivations for sponsoring the program and its level of involvement. This is admirable – especially given the fact that we are witnessing a struggle within drug companies between those who embrace transparency and others who do not – as illustrated by recent questionable edits to Wikipedia. 

I was also pleased that the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) agreed to communicate with me – via e-mail – about the program.  In general, I found, Barbara Hylard, a former employee of DBSA, to be forthcoming about the Coalition.  However, she (and presumably other members of the Coalition) are unwilling to feature more information about Wyeth’s support of the program on the Depression is Real Website.  This is disappointing, especially because the US government is leading a push (through its Healthy People effort) to encourage producers of health-related Websites to disclose information about how site content was developed and funded.  In addition, I think it would help bolster the credibility of the effort to prominently display information about Wyeth’s involvement in the campaign.  While Hylard does not think taking this step “would be helpful” and may distract from the educational purpose of the campaign, I disagree.

How Does The Podcast Stack Up?

Porter Novelli, the public relations firm helping to produce the Depression is Real campaign, originally contacted me about the Down & Up Show, the Coalition’s podcast series.  Overall, I think the podcast is very well produced.  In addition, I’ve been impressed by the fact that the Coalition has been able to attract a number of prominent people to participate in the podcast, including:

-Mary Jo Codey, former first lady of New Jersey

-Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of the intriguing book Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness

-Kitty Dukakis, former first lady of Massachusetts

In addition, at first I was concerned that the content of the podcast was not appropriate for listeners with limited health literacy skills – which includes most of the US adult population.  One of the first programs, focusing on the scientific basis of depression, was filled with words and phrases like “stressors” and “biologic components.”  However, future episodes featured commentary from non-scientists, which helped a lot.  

However, I have been disappointed that the show does not feature commentary from listeners.  In fact, the Down & Up Show Website appears to have some features of a blog.  Despite this, comments are turned off.  I also noticed that a casual visitor to the Website would be hard pressed to leave an audio or text comment for potential use in a future episode.  

Discussing the Down & Up Show brings me to a major pet peeve I have about how we talk about social media as it relates to podcasting.  Podcasts like the Down & Up Show, which do not feature or solicit commentary from listeners, are not very social.  Yet, we continue to lump most podcasts into the social media framework.  To be truly social, podcast producers need to reach out to listeners and find appropriate ways to incorporate their feedback into podcasts.  I’m surprised that with the Coalition seeking to educate a diverse population about depression that audience commentary is not featured in the program.  Until the Coalition involves listeners in its podcast, I can’t call the Down & Up Show an example of a social media campaign.  Currently, there’s not much conversation going on.

Of course, I may not be aware of ongoing or future efforts to incorporate listener feedback into the program, so I encourage Coalition members and/or the show’s producers to comment on this blog about this issue.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate my appreciation to Wyeth and the Depression is Real Coalition for participating in this series.  

Disclosure: In general, it is my policy – except in very narrow and specific circumstances – not to blog about subjects relating to companies or organizations my firm Envision Solutions consults with.  However, while I was developing this series, Envision Solutions became involved in discussions with Porter Novelli to consult with it (and one of its clients) on a social media communications-related project.  Porter Novelli did not review, approve or influence content developed for this series.

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