What better way to celebrate Canada Day than by focusing on a pharma social media campaign that seems to fit within all the Canadian regulatory guidelines, and presents the opportunity to thoroughly engage with patients; the Real MS Voices campaign by Merck Serono and Merck.
Earlier this week, I saw the following FaceBook ad on my personal FaceBook profile;
Although the font is very small and faint, you can spot the corporate names Merck Serono and Merck at the bottom of the ad. When you click on the ad, you are brought to the new online MS community, Real MS Voices, developed by Merck Serono and Merck. The objective of the site is to encourage MS patients to submit video entries as part of a contest. This is a global campaign that was launched on May 26 2010, yet it appears that most of the activity on the various platforms actually got started later in June 2010.
It is a global campaign, however the site is not intended for use by residents of the US or the UK. UK residents are encouraged to get involved with Real MS by visiting the UK site, whereas US residents are suggested to visit the EMD Serono site to find out more about life with MS. No restrictions are mentioned for Canadian site visitors.
Registering for the site is simple and takes a few seconds only. Since anybody can sign up, this site would be considered ‘open’ to the public, or non-gated from a regulatory perspective.
The site boasts several social media platforms where MS patients can engage with Real MS Voices; an online community, RSS feed, Twitter, FaceBook and a blog (comments are encouraged on the blog). The video contest will also include some social media component as people will be voting for their favorites online. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the YouTube link to Real MS Voices is missing on the homepage of the site, yet it is listed on the FaceBook ‘Info’ tab.
Online community rules:
The host organization was very wise to allow members to write comments, yet there are community rules that need to be followed. These are listed on the website and are repeated on the other social media platforms (FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube) as well. Here are a few conditions that are important for regulatory purposes:
- “Our message boards are moderated on a regular basis. We will remove inappropriate posts that do not follow our rules for postings on message boards.”
- “MESSAGES WHICH PROMOTE OR DISCUSS ANY MS THERAPY ARE PROHIBITED: we all have opinions about MS treatments. However, if the posts are misleading, misinformed, become solicitations, aggressive, or hurtful to others, they will be removed and the member will be contacted to discuss proper guidelines and possible consequences. Messages containing names (either brand or generic) of current MS therapies are prohibited and will be removed from the messaging board.”
- “This site does not give medical advice, nor does it provide medical or diagnostic services. Your reliance upon content obtained by you at or through the site is solely at your own risk.”
In fact, even the video contest entry details state that “Entries containing names (either brand or generic) of current MS therapies or drugs in development will not be considered for the Competition or posted on the Real MS website“.
See the FaceBook screenshot below which highlights the community rules. All community settings also mention that Donna Sullivan is the person behind the community posts. She is an independent Community Manager, financially supported by Merck Serono S.A. – Geneva, owner of Real MS:
The campaign is brand new, so there are very few members at the moment. I expect that as awareness of the Real MS Voices campaign grows, so will the level of engagement. The startup for the campaign is a bit slow so far, but it truly is just the beginning. The 1st FaceBook post and the 1st Twitter tweet took place on June 25th. The following are a few screenshots from the FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube profiles to show the level of activity thus far;
So how does Canada fit in?
Canada has a high rate of MS. The 2008 Atlas of Multiple Sclerosis suggests that MS strikes as many as 240 out of every 100,000 people in Canada. With so many people affected by this disease, whether they have MS or know somebody with MS, online communities may provide a unique opportunity for people affected with MS to connect with one another. Here is an article that highlights some benefits and tips for those who have MS and may be interested in online networking.
Allison Zavitz, Marketing Manager, Neurodegenerative Diseases at EMD Serono Canada Inc., confirmed that the Canadian affiliate is taking a passive role in the Real MS Voices program. While Canadians are allowed to submit and vote on video entries as well as engage with Real MS Voices in the various social media platforms, the campaign is being administered by the global head office. Allison also confirmed that the Canadian affiliates are not promoting the social network to physicians, nor were they responsible for the FaceBook ad that I saw on my FaceBook profile. Therefore, she believes that the global team must have set up the FaceBook ads. Since FaceBook ads can be targeted by geography, this suggests that at least one of the FaceBook ads was set up specifically for Canada.
As far as I can tell, the Real MS Voices campaign is completely within the Canadian pharmaceutical regulatory guidelines. For more details on how social media fits within the Canadian regulatory guidelines, see Highlights from “Social Media Marketing in Pharma: What Works in Canada”
I look forward to seeing a lot of entries from Canadian MS patients, and hopefully a Canadian winner will be announced as well.
Happy Canada Day,
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