Google’s Sidewiki and Pharma – Uh Oh.

Take a look at the screen shot below, from Pfizer’s homepage. Believe it or not, I, or anyone else, can now leave comments “on” any website (such as Pfizer.com) using a new tool (currently in beta) from Google, called Sidewiki.

PfizerSidewiki2

Game-changer? You bet.

While the use of Google’s Sidewiki has ramifications across the entire web, for every type of site or industry, I’m going to focus here on the pharma industry. Because in pharma, it’s all about controlled messaging via corporate sites, and by and large, the idea of people being able to freely comment on (just about) anything is anathema.

The locus of control has just shifted. You can turn off comments on websites and blogs, but now, people can have their say, and the comments are accessible right there via Sidewiki when people come to your site.

How does this work? Google is not the first to try to allow user-generated commentary on any site, but they are certainly the biggest and most sophisticated. All you have to do is have a Google account, download the Google toolbar for your browser (currently IE and Firefox), and activate the Sidewiki capability. That’s it. More detailed explanations of how it works and how to get started are here and here.

MackSidewiki2

I decided to go to fellow pharma blogger John Mack’s site and leave a Sidewiki comment there (above). Now John allows (and welcomes) comments, of course, but with Sidewiki, that is irrelevant. And even for those sites where comments are reviewed before approval, Sidewiki allows commentary completely apart from the intervention or approval of the site owner.

How will this change the game with regulatory issues? Well, it’s a big monkey wrench. A pharmaceutical company already cannot control what people say about it, or its products, on various sites. But now people can express themselves with annotations that are, in essence, sidebarred on company sites! Can a company be held liable for, say, off-label discussions that happen on Sidewiki in association with a product site?

It’s a good thing that the FDA will hold hearings in November about the use of social media/Web 2.0 in pharma communications, because we now have a new issue to put on the table. How does industry and its regulatory bodies view user-generated content that cannot be controlled, yet exists in conjunction with company-sponsored sites?

Some question whether the adoption rate of Sidewiki will be significant enough to make a huge difference. It’s a fair question, but I don’t believe that’s the point. The really important thing is: the wall has been breached. I’m not sure there’s going to be any going back as this kind of (pretty much inevitable) approach evolves.

The rules of the game just changed again.

UPDATE: Fellow industry blogger Phil Baumann was thinking about the same theme today! Read his valuable thoughts.

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“So, Can Your iPhone…?”

Yes, I guess it can.

I was at a conference last week, and someone who is trying to justify, in his own mind, the purchase of an iPhone (go for it, John!) asked me if my iPhone was capable of storing video of an entire presentation.

I didn’t know the answer. So, it was time for an experiment. Could my iPhone capture my entire 50-minute presentation? And, from a distance of ~15-20 feet, would the audio even be discernible?

The results surprised me a bit. While the end product won’t make anyone’s Top 10 List of anything, the iPhone did capture the entire presentation with no problem, and (if your speaker is up loud enough), you can actually hear what I’m saying in this brief clip:

[From a presentation on Pharma Social Media - Where's the Low-hanging Fruit?]

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Crop Circles

Everyone wants impressive, attention-getting ads – something to rivet eyeballs and cut through the clutter of sensory overload.

Just be careful there’s more to it than just making a striking impression of some sort.

Crop circles get people’s attention. But when they come across them, here’s what they’re left with:

crops- What IS this?

- Why is it here?

- Who is responsible?

- Crops? What crops?

If people are asking those questions at the end of even a “great” ad, then you’ve just plowed under a lot of money. Creativity isn’t necessarily the same as effectiveness. Because you’re there to provide crops, not run rings around your audience…

(Image credit)

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Weather Channel Classic Launched!

WCCThe Weather Channel, after listening to years of strident input from viewers everywhere, has launched a new channel – WCC (Weather Channel Classic) where every description of the weather is 100% accurate.

WCC provides day-old forecasts – called backcasts – to show you, with unerring precision, what the weather was like for the past 24 hours. Or, if you subscribe to WCC Premium Gold Plus, you can go back and find out exactly what the weather was for any date in the past 30 years!

“We’ve had complaints for, oh, just about forever that forecasts simply aren’t accurate enough,” said Joseph Cumulata, Director of Statistical Analysis at The Weather Channel. “‘Chance of rain: 60%. 80% this. 50% that. Blah, blah, blah – just give us the facts!’ they keep telling us. So, with WCC and WCC Premium Gold Plus, we’re going to give you the facts. 100% everything. Because we want to bat a thousand too, sometimes!”

A new crew of weather backcasters has been hired, who will do the usual magic wand waving over colorful maps, but who only require a maximum IQ (and body temperature) of 98.6 to read a teleprompter and get the weather description right. “We’re going to save a ton of money,” declared Charlie Nimbus, director of Programming at The Weather Channel. “We can put up doe-eyed models and half-brained pretty boys who will dazzle with their perfect smiles while giving perfect forecasts…er, backcasts. Everybody wins.”

AltoStratusWCC was soft-launched in beta markets full of older people (Orlando and Phoenix) who tend to be more sensitive to the nuances of weather, and more demanding that weather descriptions be perfect so that they can figure out if they should have ventured outside. “I love WCC!” exalted Bertha Perambulus, who has been watching the channel several hours a day for 3 months now. “The backcasts correspond perfectly with the achiness I felt in my joints during last week’s low pressure, and in my sneak peek of WCC Premium Gold Plus, I was able to see that big rainstorm roll right in that ruined my 40th high school reunion in 1998. I don’t know how I lived without it!

“Plus that cute backcaster, Alto B. Stratus – I can’t take my eyes off of him!”

Assuming a successful uptake of the new Classic Channel, the company is already in discussions with Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann to come on board for a new venture, the Weather Channel Smackdown, where opinions about upcoming weather will be debated in live, free-for-all screaming matches.

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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Plodding

One of the appeals of social networking is the “instantness” (is that a word? should it be??) of it all. You can create a blog in minutes, open a Twitter account painlessly, set up a profile on Facebook or Linked in and start connecting – all free, and all (pretty much) immediate.

So why do so many people start with a burst of energy, and fall by the wayside?

ploddingBecause like so many other ventures in life, real success comes through plodding.

Those who truly succeed in building strong networks and positive reputations do so, not by quick-fix schemes, but by the steady, day-to-day drip of plodding forward. Adding value with regular posts. Exchanging messages over time with quality people. Encouraging and helping people getting started, with no expectation of return. Being there and showing up.

Yes, these platforms are tools, and yes, there can be business strategy behind it all. But what else is behind it? Dare I say love for others?

The love of couples with strong marriages, and the love of parents for kids, also contains a major element of plodding. Day-to-day displays of warmth, kindness, and selflessness. Noticing the little things. Making the small and important gestures. Showing up.

Social networking is really not all that different from so many other ways that we create and maintain relationships. Yes, it’s easier to get started. But at the end of the day, it’s plodding that makes things happen. Just like in business. Just like our physical neighborhoods. Just like everything.

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Vermont: The Pleasant Throwback

I’m a New Englander at heart. Grew up in Connecticut; still root for the Red Sox; like 4 seasons; enjoy moving from state to state within an hour or two.

But for all that, I never really spent much time in Vermont. So, on a recent R&R family swing through 7 states (hey, you can do that in a day in New England!), we spent a good chunk of time in Vermont.

And I learned something about how Vermont promotes Vermont.

A while back, there was a big brouhaha about Vermont trying to keep Wal-Mart out if its borders, for fear that the big-box chain would ruin the small business economic setup in the state. I didn’t quite “get it” (overly used to NJ, I guess, where big boxes are ubiquitous), but hey, it’s kind of nice to see a group of people giving a kick in the teeth to mega-business conformity.

But, after spending several days in the state, visiting various towns and businesses, it began to dawn on me. Vermonters like to rely on Vermonters. Small business inter-dependence is a way of life in the small and scattered state, not an option.

I first grasped it when we went on the Ben & Jerry’s tour, and they talked about only using milk (non-bovine growth hormone produced milk) from local Vermont farms. Local community support was (is) a big deal for that company. And, as we visited various shops, we noted that so many of the products being offered were made locally. Cheeses, salsas, wines, beers, meats, maple-stuff, crafts – Vermont sells Vermont.

Vermont_goods

Now when I go to my local Wal-Mart here in NJ, I just see a bunch of products that, to me and to everyone else, are “root-less.” These are commodities sourced in bulk to obtain and offer low prices. And, as a customer, I appreciate that – up to a point. But as I far more eagerly opened my wallet in Vermont, I realized that the business climate had this “local support” backdrop and feel to it. That ice cream, that syrup, that cider, that chocolate, was made a by a local citizen-craftsman-company. That little store was run by a townsperson. It began to dawn on me why they didn’t want a Wal-Mart invasion. I find that I didn’t want that for Vermont either all of a sudden. It’s a way-of-life/quality-of-life issue.

Oh, and they don’t have billboards either. Do you realize how nice that is?

So, Vermont, my hat’s off to you. Keep up the resistance. Keep being a pleasant and distinctive destination. Maybe I’ll pay more for your stuff, but you know what? You’re worth it.

[Vermonters - do I have this right?]

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Ask the Ten Questions

TenIt really all boils down to about 10 questions. Sit down with a client, go through these questions, and you’ll pretty much have the raw material to brainstorm and blueprint a project.

Just about any kind of project. After many years of consulting with clients about projects large and small, in areas ranging from training to technology to marketing to social media, I’ve found that the key questions are pretty much the same. Here are my Top 10 Questions for Defining a Project:

    1. What’s the point? (at the highest level, what exactly are you trying to achieve?)
    2. Why? (what are the strategic and business goals that provide the context?)
    3. What is the current state? (where are you now?)
    4. What is the desired state (where should this initiative take you?)
    5. How would success be measured? (what metrics and results will be used to gauge effectiveness?)
    6. Who is/are the key stakeholder(s), and the target audience(s)?
    7. What are the available resources? (budget, time, internal personnel, etc.?)
    8. What are the potential phases? (short-term, long-term, ongoing development?)
    9. What are the anticipated deliverables?
    10. What are the potential variables that may impact the project?

With some variations on each theme, some sub-questions, and maybe some additional major questions depending on the nature of the initiative, those questions should give a pretty thorough overview for both client and service provider.

If you are on the vendor side, you know that most clients haven’t thought their projects through this thoroughly. That’s where you can take the Ten Questions and do everyone a favor by framing out the project well ahead of time.

That’s my take – what would you add? What questions do you use to tease out the details of a project?

(Image credit)

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