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.
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!
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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?