Regardless of your opinion of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC), which has catapulted the ALS Association’s (ALSA’s) charitable coffers to feverish heights, there are valuable business lessons from which pharma and biotech executives can learn.
Lesson number one — social media is a very powerful tool. Let’s consider some quantitative and qualitative data from the IBC. As of this writing, the ALSA received $106 million in donations from more than three million donors. Pre-IBC, the ALSA.org website averaged close to 8,000 visitors a day. By the end of August, the average number of visitors per day was 630,000 — a 7,775 percent increase in traffic. If you would have told me a few months ago you could use social media to convince Ophra Winfrey, Martha Stewart, and the second wealthiest person in the world, Bill Gates, to pour buckets of ice water over their heads while getting them to give money in the process, I would have told you to go soak your head. What pharma company trying to get people to enroll in clinical trials wouldn’t want this level of engagement?
If you want to be able to take advantage of the power of social media, learn how to use it. For example, although part of the IBC’s success resides in the fact that people were willing to be narcissistic and post their videos, self-promotion is not the key to success in social media. For example, one of the most important rules of social media success is to tweet, like, and comment more about others than about yourself.
Lesson number two — social media = people. Between June 1 and August 17, more than 28 million people on Facebook posted, commented on, or liked a challenge post. While plenty of companies posted videos of employees participating in the IBC, none come close to those posted by individuals. Thus, while Pfizer on the surface seems to be doing everything right when it comes to social media (i.e., five Facebook pages, eight Twitter accounts, a weibo page [China’s version of Twitter], 12 YouTube channels, SlideShare, and LinkedIn), all of its accounts include the Pfizer name. While this approach may be great for branding, it flies in the face of what makes social media social — people. Pharma companies need to allow executives to put themselves out there and participate in social media and avoid the temptation to overly police the process. To Pfizer’s credit, Ian Read, the company’s CEO, does have a limited LinkedIn profile which can be viewed publicly. He is also a member of the LinkedIn Influencers program.
Lesson number three — social media is organic and fun. ALS is a terrible disease. While typical fundraising tactics of guilt can get people to give, the IBC demonstrated that more people will engage if you focus on fun. If pharma wants to get better at engaging with people and improving enrollment in clinical trials, it should try making the process fun. Then, when you find it, don’t try to trademark it to prevent others from using. Where is the fun in that?