October is international “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”; or “Octobre Rose” (“Pink October”) in France. This is an opportunity for patient groups, charities or states to raise awareness about breast cancer and reiterate the importance of screening.

In France, more than 52,000 new breast cancer cases are estimated in 2010, making it the most common cancer amongst women. Thus, the “Octobre Rose” campaign aims to overcome the reluctance of women to take part in breast cancer screening.

Among the many initiatives and digital strategies that are emerging throughout Europe is the digital engagement campaign “La Chaine Rose” from pharmaceutical company Roche in France.

Social media to engage a community against breast cancer

Pharmaceutical marketers and communicators know that social media and new digital communication strategies can be an important tool to achieve their goals. Yet digital campaigns that connect patients and pharmaceutical companies around a cause using these new channels of communication are still quite rare in France.

This example of communication using social networks engages both patients and their relatives.

Campaign overview

Roche have launched the “La Chaine Rose” campaign for the fourth consecutive year to participate, encourage and financially support a charity working against cancer. Between the 1st of October and 30th of November, visitors are invited to express themselves by writing a story about women and breast cancer, on the theme of struggle, hope and support. For every story shared on the campaign website, Roche will pay 10 € to the French association “Tout le monde chante contre le cancer” (“Everybody sing against cancer”) to the tune of 15,000 €.

Through this campaign, Roche skilfully uses social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the campaign website to engage patients and release them from their fears to express themselves. I spoke with Fanny Gaudry, Press Relations Manager at Roche and she pointed out that patients are present on the Internet and are looking for communities where they can get some information or share their experience:

“There is a need for expression and this event is precisely an opportunity to allow people to express themselves around Breast Cancer Awareness Month”

The website www.lachainerose.com is the heart of Roche’s campaign. The platform is a “wall” where all those committed against cancer can freely come and tell a story that has touched them, or their own story, and then invite one of their friends to continue this chain.

And to mobilize more people and create a “chain” that is as long as possible, Roche uses a Facebook page followed by nearly 1,500 people. The moderator of this page actively encourages Facebook users to continue to post stories on the website.

The Twitter account @lachainerose is also a way of sharing stories of women living with breast cancer with Twitter users, and of disseminating the messages of hope, struggle and support more widely.

Ms Gaudry told me that using social networks for this campaign is found to be the best way to encourage people affected by breast cancer to share their stories. For this campaign, she says that the development and use of these digital channels have not been particularly complicated because Roche are not talking about products. Additionally, Roche has recently set up a new team in France in charge of e-marketing and e-communication, reflecting the company’s increasing development of digital engagement.

However, she says:

“all the stories are moderated, they are read before being posted to ensure that there is no treatment name, doctor name… and that they obey the rules outlined on the website.”

A digital territory against breast cancer

Last year, Roche’s “La Chain Rose” recorded more than 5,000 testimonies; today its Facebook page is “Liked” by nearly 1,500 people and its Twitter account followed by more than 130 followers.

The information shared by patients and their supporters contributes both to financing the French association “Tout le monde chante contre le cancer “, and to enriching the knowledge and understanding of the disease.

Last year, patients were allowed to post short messages of support, and this year longer stories about real experiences can be shared.  Ms Gaudry says that Roche now has the opportunity to do more with the stories that have been shared:

“The campaign was designed to better understand the experience of patients”.

Roche’s role is not to directly raise awareness about the need to get screened, but rather to raise awareness of breast cancer by facilitating discussions on the website and beyond. Those involved in the campaign will respond not only through social media but also through their families, friends and colleagues.

Thus, “La Chaine Rose” is a temporary community acting together for a common cause and whose the link is the pharmaceutical company behind the campaign. Roche brings to patients and all those who are concerned with this disease a “digital territory” where everyone can participate and share.

Through this initiative, Roche shows that despite the regulatory restrictions in terms of communication, it is possible to create a link with patients and their families by supporting them online.

Two-way conversation does not yet exist, but the links are in place.

If you would like to develop a strategy for engaging patients or any other stakeholders in a relevant way about health matters, Creation Healthcare can help. Contact us to find out how.