« Wait, You Wanted Pictures?? | Main | Weak Arms ... »

Charlie and the Twitter Factory.

I have a lot to catch up on, including a post about Lee Ann and I braving the Indiana highways and then the BlogHer conference, but let me just say this first:  I like Charlie Kimball.  I like him as a person, as a fellow diabetes advocate, and as a race car driver because, really, that is just damn cool.  So there's my big disclaimer:  I like Charlie.  (I even have a post ready to write about meeting up with him at Friends for Life a few weeks ago.)

So I do not like to see Charlie, the guy, under such attack for the @racewithinsulin Twitter account.  Plenty of bloggers are up in arms about the Novo/Kimball union and its steps into social media, like John Mack from the Pharma Marketing Blog.  I felt a little protective of my fellow PWD, which prompted me to do a little investigating.  I wanted to know how Novo, the company, feels about this whole Twitter/marketing/Pharma thing.

So I asked them.

Charlie Kimball and Kerri Sparling.  Dressed almost identically.  Weird.

Ambre Morley, Associate Director of Product Communications at Novo Nordisk and I met at the Friends for Life conference, and I told her that I was concerned about the backlash towards Charlie and the branded Twitter account.  "I have a ton of questions, and I know some of the PR people who are questioning the account might do well to hear the answers.  Like why the account doesn't follow anyone.  And what's the deal with those blatantly branded Tweets?"

She agreed to answer my questions.  And since Novo is the first I can think of to jump in with a pharma-branded Twitter account with a "real face," I wanted to hear the answers.  (Note:  All links to pages within the answers were added by me.)

Kerri:   Charlie is a valued member of the diabetes community, so I can understand why you guys chose to partner with him. But what made you decide to start a Twitter acct?  

Novo:  When we decided to partner with Charlie, we explored a number of different opportunities. He was already "tweeting" personally, however, when he asked about tweeting about our partnership, which includes the insulin he takes everyday, Levemir and NovoLog, we knew had to figure out a way to do it right. We didn't think it was right to ask him to put the prescribing information on his page and monitor every time he tweeted about diabetes. So we created a new account that we could ensure met all regulatory guidelines. Why Twitter? He was already doing it, so we wanted to create something that would easily fit into Charlie's lifestyle.
Kerri:  Why are Charlie's personal Tweets and his Levemir Tweets exactly the same?  
Novo:  It's important to understand that Charlie does all of the tweeting, both on his personal page and on the Novo Nordisk Race with Insulin page. It's up to him. They aren't always exactly the same, but where convenient and appropriate, he uses the same tweets, as it's probably easier to copy and paste. There are times when the tweets are different.
Kerri:  Does Charlie write the Levemir Tweets or is there an editorial vetting proces? Can you explain the thoughts behind the "branded" Tweets?  
Novo:  Charlie writes all of the tweets, including the Levemir and NovoLog branded tweets.  We provided him with instruction for how to tweet about the brands and comply with pharmaceutical regulations. So, anytime he tweets the words Levemir or NovoLog, a link to the product prescribing information has to be included.
The reason? Take a look at the page from your computer. You see the patient safety information on the left, along with a link to novonordiskcare.com on the right, which contains all of the prescribing and other important information. The challenge is, because the majority of Twitter users read and update their accounts from mobile devices, we knew most people would not see that information if Charlie wrote a tweet. That's why the prescribing information is there. It's required. It's similar to when a company does any stand-alone promotion of a product, that information has to be there.
More importantly, it's important to understand that the branded tweets aren't random. Charlie takes Levemir and NovoLog, so when he decides to tweet that he just took his insulin, he really just did. We don't believe a pharmaceutical company has tried to do branded tweets before, much less with a spokesperson who takes the insulin. But we're still learning and trying to figure it out. It's been a fun and definitely interesting time.  
Kerri:  Why doesn't the @racewithinsulin Twitter acct follow or reply to anyone? What kind of regulations must be in place for a Twitter acct of this kind?  
Novo:  While Charlie is the face of Race with Insulin, it is a corporate account for Novo Nordisk.  At this time, we aren't able to follow anyone, as pharmaceutical usage of social media is very regulated and we want to ensure we do it right. This is just the first phase and as we grow and learn, hopefully we will be able to follow people in the future. We are also open to suggestion.

After speaking to you, we took your advice and set up an e-mail address for the page. (Editor's Note:  I suggested that the account would seem a bit more accessible if they, at the very least, had some contact information.)  You should see an image update in the next week with the new address. But as I know you know, social media moves in real time and we haven't quite caught up to that speed in pharma. We're making baby steps but we're trying to stay in the race.
Kerri:  We know you guys are breaking new ground with this Twitter account, so what should we expect as part of your growing pains?  
Novo:  We're still learning. We want to do a lot, but we also understand that the pharmaceutical industry is the most heavily regulated in this country. We won't be able to do things as easily as say computer or food companies, but you have our commitment that we do plan to try to engage. Stay tuned.  
Kerri:  How has Novo felt about the blog backlash to @racewithinsulin, and how has Novo moved to protect themselves and Charlie?  
Novo:  If no one talks about what you do, you probably haven't made much of an impact. That said, it would be nice if the talk was all positive and more importantly, true. We encourage people to ask questions and give us an opportunity answer. We're pretty transparent about our challenges and open to discussion about any ideas to make it better. There were some false assumptions gaining traction, but that's also the nature of this business. You can never please everyone, but you can only hope that social media will adopt some of the principals [sic] of traditional journalism and report the facts, before making assumptions. We're working to move quicker to respond but also encouraging anyone to just ask. As for Charlie, he has been great. He's in a profession where he already has a lot of attention on him and is working with us to help make the page a success.

Kerri:  What do you want the Twitter community to understand about the aims of @racewithinsulin?
Novo:  We are very happy to be working with Charlie and wanted to reach as many people as possible. Twitter was an application that Charlie was already using and we wanted to find a way where he could continue to do so and incorporate our relationship.

It's still new and we're just getting started, but we hope to continue to find new, innovative ways to continue to reach everyone with his powerful message that diabetes does NOT slow him down!

*   *   *

I'm glad Novo went out on a limb and dove into the social media space, and I'm also glad that they agreed to answer my questions.  Thanks, Ambre!  What are your thoughts about Pharma in the social networking space?  Don't just say "Hey, they're doing it wrong!"  If you think it's so wrong, what would make it right? 


Kerri -

Excllent work!

Pharma probably has it the hardest of any industry when it comes to social networks - there are many things that aren't as simple to do as it is with, say Starbucks or Comcast.

Nevertheless, there are many things Pharma can do. One of them is simply to have a presence, monitor what's going on, and to learn and obtain useful content that otherwise may be difficult to find.

Here's the thing: traditional Pharma marketers are struggling to port in the methods they're familiar with (Advertising, Brand promotion, etc.). The traditional model was based on unilateral broadcasting - and it "worked" last century.

Social media, however, reverse that model: it's now a conversational world. Unilateral broadcasting ("talk to the hand", spaghetti on the wall marketing) just isn't effective and in fact the cost rises everyday because it can (and will) backfire.

Rather than trying to promote a product and squeezing in a PI or PPI into a tweet doesn't seem like a very effective approach - and I think it will just turn off many people & reinforce the public perception that Pharma cares more about profits than the interests of the public.

Community leadership is what Pharma should be investing in - not forcing an old model into a new one.

It's tough work and will take time and a lot of creative leadership to create remarkable communities for patients and family members.

There will be mistakes (and in fact failure in social media is a prerequisite I'd argue.)

Let's hope that Pharma brings forth and encourages the Creatives within its ranks.

I think if Pharma executives learn to use these media in their personal lives, they'll be able to understand how to engage their employees. Social media isn't molecular genetics. :)

Phil Baumann
@PhilBaumann on Twitter

Thanks Kerri.

Transparency is a two way street.. wait that sound stupid and the last thing I need to do is sound more stupid (is that even possible?)

How about Transparency is a two way piece of glass. There are responsibilities on both sides.

We in the chatter class are under no regulations and are free to say or do much of anything we want. We should try to understand that we are lucky in that score. Pharma is regulated up the wazoo and it is apparent they have "Is" to cross and Ts" to dot or something like that.

I appreciate you bringing to the window their thinking that when into this.

I think what you make clear is maybe we should try to see the rules that the pharma folks have to play under. As a fiend of mine says engage brain before putting mouth in gear. (or maybe mouth)

It seems to me the mistake was not being clear about how they were following the rules up front and that makes the look a little strange at the twitter dance.

Great post, Kerri. As I mentioned in this interview, I feel the @racewithinsulin account is a step in the right direction but one needing more work.

For example, instead of including the brand name (which per pharma regulations would require all the other links and generic info, etc.) he could simply say "my fast acting insulin" or "my long acting insulin." The page itself is pretty branded already, so that would make his tweets more conversational and would not require him to include all that other stuff that seems to be at the center of most people's concerns.

As for following other people, I am not aware of pharmaceutical regulations on the usage of social media. Still, if that is the case, if that is the case, it just is not the any different from a blog post where people can't make comments or, perhaps most accurately, comments do not get replied to or addressed. I don't have an answer to this issue (if it is indeed a regulatory issue), but I don't think not following anyone really makes the best use of the medium.

Personally, I think this is not a reflection on Charlie who, I agree, is an inspiring figure in the diabetes community. I think it's part of the learning process on Pharma's part.

exactly, i think that alot of this kind of stuff has to get kneaded. you beat it up for a while until both sides know how this works. we can have no idea of the hoops that pharma has to jump through, and they are still expected to seem spontaneous. the question will have to be asked "if this is 'social media' does corporate pharma belong there?" maybe it is all just semantics, but this is the sort of thing that may need redefinition. like someone said earlier - starbucks can do this because they are not so regulated.. you and i can say what we want (though i did see some lawsuit because someone twitted that a hotel room was moldy) but the legal rigamarole that their industry has to wade through is daunting, and it may hinder them from being able to do it... but i wish them the best of luck none the less, i hate blind criticism like they are experiencing.. but if you open the door... you never know who will walk through

I have not ever had any problems with Charlie's blog or his twitter account and I am fine with Novo's participation in both his racing and his tweeting -- haven't they sponsored other athletes? I think I remember seeing a Novo hat on a golfer's hat (who just happens to be a neighborhood hero-- yeah that would be Scott Verplank). I can throw rocks at his childhood golf course.

I also thought the one person I've seen been snarky has absolutely NO ROOM to talk.

I'd like to defend myself against Novo Nordisk's attack on my credibility viz-a-viz Race w Insulin. Pharma Marketing Blog post: http://bit.ly/VBC4z

Post a comment

(All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience!)