Our Guest blogger, Brian Reid, is media director at WeissComm Partners. He provides public relations counsel to GSK.
Whether you believe that the dramatic town hall meetings about healthcare reform are reflective of a genuine debate or merely political stagecraft, it's hard to deny that they demonstrate the power of face-to-face contact. Sure, the opposing factions are also focusing their energy on fighting this battle with a series of cutting, 140-character Twitter posts and launching broadside via blogs (in addition to the usual non-stop chatter on cable-news shows) but those efforts don't have the resonance of those in-person shouting matches carry.
But just as conflict can be more powerful when it's face-to-face, building bridges is easier when we get out from behind our computers.
We are entering the era of the e-patient, when support groups and advocacy organizations have moved online. Now, it takes neither money nor connections to tell your story. Increasingly, those of us who work with pharmaceutical companies are looking for ways to ensure that we are hearing all of the richness of that online storytelling. Yet listening from behind a computer monitor only gets you so far. Earlier this year, at a medical meeting, I worked to gather a bunch of "virtual" friends--patients, media, advocates, industry, most of whom I had never met--together in the real, physical world.
What emerged was a profound set of connections that gave a deeper sense of the individuals telling the stories. No one solved the pressing issue of the day, no grand plans were hatched, but I had a much better sense of where everyone was coming from: what motivated them to be on the web in the first place and what they hoped to accomplish via social media. In short, it was a humanizing evening.
Making sure that we don't lose that human touch in the era of the online avatar is the fundamental challenge for those of us who think and write and talk about the pharmaceutical industry. There is now more information than ever for us to keep track on. More forums, more tweets, more bloggers, more Facebook, more everything. Yet if companies such as GSK want to keep fully engaged in the world of patients, physicians and others, they can't let shiny technologies completely displace face-to-face interaction.
Getting people together in the real world doesn't guarantee a meeting of the minds (after all, the town hall meetings have done more to muddy the debate than advance it), but it does raise the odds that ideas will be transmitted fully and accurately. And in an era of information, there is nothing more powerful.