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Conversations On Sermo...

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Ok, I'm a little late to the party, but I thought I would add my two cents about the news out yesterday from social networking site Sermo.

It seems everyone I regularly read is commenting on the news that Sermo has formed a collaboration that will provide Sermo's community of physicians with access to Pfizer's clinical content -- and much of the commentary isn't very nice. Worries seem to abound -- from how companies like Pfizer will handle the discussion of off-label uses or adverse events on Sermo to whether doctors will flee the site if they believe it is being used as another marketing tool.

Ed Silverman ran with that particular theme in a post he put up today on Pharmalot. Quoting from a few doctors who had posted their opinions on Sermo, Ed picked up on how the anti-industry sentiment out there could be Sermo's undoing. According to Ed, as one doc put it:

“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.”

Another doc went further:

“I’ll add this to my list at,” one laments. “Daniel (the founder and CEO of Sermo), you let the enemy in,” one concludes. “Shame on you.”

Though I chuckle when people describe me as an "industry hack," I bristle when I'm treated as the enemy. Hey -- there are a lot of good, smart and knowledgeable people who work for companies in the health care industry who are deeply passionate about developing new treatments that could improve patient care.

I don't have any insights into why Pfizer formed this relationship with Sermo other than what's been said publicly, and I'm not going to comment on the pros or cons of this particular collaboration. But I did think that John Mack made a compelling case for why this probably isn't about promoting product:

...what does Sermo know about these docs? Only that they are licensed phsyicians in a particular speciality or general practice. It knows squat about their prescribing behavior. How can you market to docs willy nilly without knowing their scrip writing habits?

Social media is more about forming relationships and connecting with people than about marketing -- and it is important for companies to get involved in this conversation. (If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be here... ) Online communities can provide a level of access to customers -- whether they are members of the medical or lay communities -- that is increasingly hard to come by. For an industry that depends upon deep consumer insights to help drive innovation, such relationships and knowledge are invaluable.

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