October 16th, 2007

Conversations On Sermo…

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 www.declineandfallofwesterncivilization.com,” 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.

3 Responses to “Conversations On Sermo…”

  1. Marijean Jaggers says

    Social media is a set of tools that have the potential to make healthcare personal again. By enabling patient/provider interaction, patients become people again and an industry returns to individuals who care, who we know by name, and know how to reach. I’m thrilled by what Johnson & Johnson is doing with this site and applaud any healthcare group engaging in social media to get closer to patient and customer needs.

  2. George Laszlo says

    No-one should wonder why Sermo has made this deal with Pfizer. It’s a repeat of the (probably false)Willy Sutton line: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.” I use this anology deliberately since you can’t blame the banks for being the repository for the cash. You do, however, have to question the creativity of the bank robber. Are there no other places where you can get money and avoid the limelight?

  3. R Zacharias says

    The social networking thing is not about you and your feeling and thoughts about medicine. It’s not about doctor’s holding hands as one and venting. It’s about selling information to those in charge, those that run the health care machine. It’s about them getting into your heads and learning what you think, what motivates you. You, the doctor, for now, sign the charts, see the patients, supervise and make decisions running the machine. You are providers, providers of an industry paying high dollars to know what you think. Knowledge is power and that is what drives Sermo, Sermons. It’s like a confessional.
    Quote from CNN Money:
    The doctors, for their part, know that they are being observed. In fact, Sermo offers them a cut of the action. Doctors who ask or answer a question that paying observers deem especially valuable receive bonuses of $5 to $25 per post. Only about 1 percent of posts have such payments associated with them, Palestrant says, and doctors don’t know whether they’re getting paid until the discussion triggered by their question is closed.

    To keep that discussion untainted by commercial interests, only doctors whose credentials have been vetted are allowed to participate, and investors are not permitted to post comments…
    By Susanna Hamner, Business 2.0 Magazine writer-reporter
    June 19 2007

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