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You let the enemy in…

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There is a storm in one of the blogosphere’s corners – the pharma one. It makes a change from the ‘upheavals’ of the usual social media or the political digerati. It is also interesting to see that similar issues are affecting them all – transparency, credibility, reputation and monetisation. Once communities and networks get some traction and visibility the onslaught of marketers or advertisers begins.

Sermo, the two-year-old online forum where 30,000 docs love to dish, has inked a deal to collaborate with Pfizer, which can now freely access the site and post, post, post.

This is what doctors in the Sermo community have to say about it.

“I am not a fan of PhRMA…and I am especially not thrilled at the idea that they will now have one more way to ‘get at’ physicians via Sermo.”

“Any influence from Pfizer has to be absolutely marked and labeled loud and clear! I am sick and tired of industry people sneaking in their subtle, hard-to-detect influences into everything and every media corner money can buy.”

“No Pfizer docs acting like reps in here!”

“There is no way Pfizer is interested in anything but marketing in this ‘partnership.’ ”

“I’ll add this to my list at”

“Daniel, you let the enemy in. Shame on you.”

It is never possible to please everyone, so picking the negative voices is not fair, one might say. But let’s see what they are saying, not just put a minus or plus sign next to them. They all react against the intrusion – for different reasons.

The first comment is about Pfizer getting to a space that docs see as their own. It is about their autonomy, in this case, the ability to control and manage who and how is ‘getting’ at you, if you are a doctor. The second comment is about transparency. It show just how delusional the industry methods of ‘influencing’ are. People don’t fall for it, only the agencies and their clients who seem to believe their own BS. The third and fourth comments are about business practices – companies’ main objectives is to sell, sell, sell. It is a sad truth that some people wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. But it is. A doctor also wants to make money but if you believed that his only motivation for treating you is to earn more money, you’d be a) a fool and b) couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. Yes, some doctors can be motivated by money but that is what often makes a bad doctor is, not a good one. The same goes for companies. If people believe that the only motivation for a company’s existence and activities is to make more money, there is no trust, just transaction. And a pushback every time the company crosses a certain line or people find new ways to push back its intrusive manners. Hence the label ‘enemy’.

And this is what Craigslist people understand:

In what turned out to be a culture clash of near-epic proportions, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to the investment community this morning at the UBS global media conference in New York. UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked Buckmaster a standard financial world question: How does the site plan to maximize revenue? The CEO of the online classifieds site answered as follows: “That definitely is not part of the equation. It’s not part of the goal.” “I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” responded Schachter, as the crowd absorbed Buckmaster’s remarks.

The difference between the doctor and a company is the one between an individual and an institution. When you meet a doctor you can decide whether you trust him or not. It is much harder with a company, there is no-one to meet or talk to. No-one to deal with directly. No-one who could give you a real clue as to the motivations and goings on within the company. Marketing and advertising campaigns can’t do that and even the successful ones rarely survive the passage of time.

Commerce these days is focused on transactions and transactions only. Sell, sell, sell. But the best salesmen tell you that it is about the relationship. And a relationship begins with a conversation, where both parties have independence and freedom to start or end it at will.

Lesson number one – don’t build or take over communities for marketing purposes. This is because monetisation of a community will never work if you do something that the community doesn’t like. In case of Sermo it’s letting Pfizer in. In case of others, it’s advertising or some other disturbance. There are plenty of bad examples but I can think of only one good one. Yes, Craigslist again…

Buckmaster acknowledged that Craigslist had been approached about placing text ads on the site. “We’ve had the numbers crunched for us,” he said. “The numbers are quite staggering.” But, no, the site wasn’t interested. “No users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that’s the end of the story,” he said to the befuddlement of the crowd. “If users start calling out for text ads, we’ll listen.”

Lesson number two – communication is a one-to-one affair, not one-to-many. (The net has enabled many-to-many as a way of network scaling). If you are a large company, don’t behave like one. Your brand is worth very little if you cannot communicate with people. And you can do that only as people. So fracture the brand, let people talk to people, your employees to each other and to those outside the company. Instead of fearing your employees expression, be grateful for their ability and willingness to lend the company their voices. Treat them with respect and they’ll reciprocate. After all, if you can’t trust your own employees, why do you expect your customers to trust you?

Lesson number three – transparency starts at home. Decide what you are about and why you are in business. Don’t bother with missions and strategic visions, they are not fooling anyone, so they shouldn’t fool you. Once you find what it is that gets you to work every day, get on with it and communicate that on your own terms. Then watch and listen to what others think and say and then communicate some more. It can be a beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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