"What is our role in social media within the Diabetes Community and who gets to define it?"
All companies are trying to cross the bridge from the conventional way we've always communicated with customers to participating in the social communities where our customers are talking to one another. It is a scenario filled with all the adolescent angst of trying to insert yourself into a conversation between the "cool" kids in school whom you are afraid will reject you if you say the wrong thing. The truth is that every company is struggling with the same question. Are we a resource? Do they trust us? How do we stay credible and remain within the regulatory guidelines?
People with diabetes are on call for their disease 24/7. Information is coming at them fast - between testing products, treatment alternatives, drugs, devices - they most often rely on the advice and support of their peers.
During the past three years, I have seen significant changes in how people interact and share information about their healthcare. In the past, healthcare companies hadn't been part of that conversation. Now Animas, along with many other companies, is trying to take steps to get more involved. I thought I would take a few minutes to explain just what we at Animas are doing to join in the online conversation about diabetes.
Before doing that though, I just wanted to acknowledge that I firmly believe the greatest value comes from organically grown communities and social networks. They develop out of purpose and thrive because of the value the participants derive from their involvement. In the diabetes world, this truly is the case. In the online diabetes world there are so many passionate, engaged people dedicating their precious time and effort to bringing people together - to foster better education, support and a feeling that there's someone out there just like them, going through exactly the same things they are going through.
I'll just call out a few that I see as making a significant impact:
Manny Hernandez (http://www.tudiabetes.com/): An ever-growing social network with clear purpose and direction. His work with this community and the Diabetes Hands Foundation (http://diabeteshandsfoundation.org/ - is as Manny describes, "a nonprofit focused on connecting people touched by diabetes") is changing the way we think about diabetes advocacy, awareness and fundraising. Manny's also seen the value of extending this community into Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other channels to fully extend the reach of his mission.
Jeff Hitchcock (http://www.childrenwithdiabetes.com/): A pioneer in this space in many ways, as his online community was one of the first, and one of the few that have taken it off-line too. His following is enormous, his online community is very active, and most compelling is the translation of this movement off-line to the annual "Friends for Life" conference. If you've never been to one, I encourage you to go and experience the magic of this event. The most valuable lesson we, as Johnson & Johnson, have learned was to leave this special community untouched, despite now being part of our company.
Kerri Morrone Sparling (http://www.sixuntilme.com/): An avid, influential, entertaining and engaging blogger in this space, who really brings the human aspect to diabetes. Kerri also has branched out into YouTube, Twitter and the likes to spread her words of encouragement or simple everyday stories that make this real for everyone.
Amy Tendrich (http://www.diabetesmine.com/): As she mentions on her site, it is truly a "gold mine of straight talk and encouragement." Amy's work with the 2009 DiabetesMineTM Design Challenge, which she describes as "an online competition to encourage creative new tools for improving life with diabetes," should send a wake up call to all manufacturers in this space. The ideas are not just coming from corporate R&D anymore.
Across the industry, the trend is shifting rapidly from company-driven campaigns to user-initiated conversations. The focus group is no longer just indoors, behind a one-way mirror-it's online, across a myriad blogs, forums, tweetup's and Facebook groups. We need to be involved in these conversations, both listening and participating - and most importantly, focused on adding value to the conversation. Otherwise, we don't belong there.
At Animas, we are pursuing various social media channels - in very much of a "test & learn," with the clear focus on learn. We want to see how we can interact with and relate to those who are looking for support. We've recently launched a YouTube Channel called Insulivin, where we plan to engage the community in user-submitted content. Insulivin has also given a few of our employees, including some who are living with diabetes, the chance to share their expertise and insights with the diabetes community. We're also exploring some other ideas on our own site, in addition to collaborating with some of our sister companies to establish a diabetes health & wellness group on Facebook.
To the extent we can listen more effectively to the collective dialogue online, our success will be measured not in impressions, but in a long-term, personal engagement with our patients.
So I guess we are defining our role as a listening and learning participant and potential resource. But back to the original question, are we the ones to define it? Or is the community? If you are out there reading and have an opinion, let's hear it. I read plenty of your opinions of industry in the communities, let me know what you think directly. Maybe we could even sit together at lunch...