The chances are your children use Wikipedia more than you do.

Nowadays scholars are directed to Wikipedia for research and self-study. The crux of this is that they are being raised accepting that Wikipedia is a trusted, reliable and accurate source of information. It’s the modern day bookshelf encyclopaedia that you can have at your fingertips anywhere in the world – and it’s free. There’s little question where this information comes from – to scholars and students it’s Wikipedia and it must be correct. Perhaps even ‘more right’ than their teacher is.

Most of the adults who consult this tome of knowledge do so with the same unquestioning reliance – even if they did stumble upon it using a search on Google. And therein lies the problem for Pharma and Healthcare.

Wikipedia is probably the worlds largest, and greatest, social knowledge movement, where true experts and the less knowledgeable can contribute to the growing database of what the world sees as the go-to website for answers and explanations. Wikipedia is social media but not as you know it. You won’t share thoughts in 140 characters or your latest pic of the family vacation exploits.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter where interaction and ‘engagement’ is more conversational – in the realms of Wikipedia that engagement is through the contribution and editing of information for the benefit of the world – hopefully factual and unbiased but in some cases not. It is an unregulated environment policed by those who know better than the last person and who hopefully really know what they are talking about. This is social media with an academic thrust. Contributors do not build their ‘Klout’ or ‘Kred’ scores, gain more Twitter followers or significantly build their influence. For the most part the system works very well indeed. You have used it too, haven’t you…?

This poses an interesting conundrum for the pharmaceutical digital manager and social media plan of action – as well as for the the regulators of what this industry can and cannot say and do when communicating directly with consumers. But – Wikipedia has a different kind of consumer. These users are looking to consume information and gain knowledge. They are not looking to make a purchase. Wikipedia is funded by donations and, as far as we know, has no desire to launch on the stock exchange and make its founder the next internet billionaire. Wikipedia is free of that. It exists solely for the benefit of its users.

Wikipedia is the only social media network that seems largely ignored by most pharmaceutical companies – for most, it appears not to be even a blip on the radar but considering its importance to the world of knowledge seekers this is a very strange and even dangerous stance for the industry, and dare I say it regulators too.

Pause for a moment and consider the wealth of knowledge and accurate facts that are housed in the databases and minds of the pharmaceutical companies throughout the world. They employ some of the best educated people who are looking for, and finding, solutions. Knowledge not only of their own products but also of all kinds of ailments and diseases. The very kind of information that would benefit the world of Wikipedia and your child’s next project. The most accurate information that a new generation will want to access through Wikipedia for a lifetime to come. If one social network is going to outlive them all it will surely be this one. The thirst for knowledge knows no generational fads and trends.

To many outside of the industry it would seem almost unthinkable that it is probably not the developers of pharmaceutical products that are posting information about them on Wikipedia but other so-called experts who may have an ‘axe to grind’ – a motive of some sort or another. And who is there from your company to challenge the contents of your brand’s poster child product as listed by Wikipedia? Or to correct misinformation regarding your area of disease expertise? Remember this is globally publicly accessible information that is implicitly trusted as being correct.

Should you have a plan to review content about your fields of expertise? And if you do, what responsibility could or would you take for future updates by others? These are important questions for regulated pharmaceutical companies.

Another question for pharmaceutical companies to consider is whether they have an obligation to the knowledge seekers of the world to ensure that accurate information about their products or area of disease expertise is shared on platforms considered authoritative by consumers, such as Wikipedia. Whilst the pharmaceutical industry may lag behind others in social media adoption, the questions around Wikipedia have to do not only with marketing but with medical information.

Regulators must also realise that the stifling of information contributed to the likes of Wikipedia by pharmaceutical companies is not in the best interest of the public; considering the role such sources of internet information play to all ages: providing largely unvetted information that is globally accepted as accurate. Even doctors and other healthcare professionals are known to consult Wikipedia.

It was several years ago that the PMCPA challenged pharmaceutical companies at a digital marketing conference to publish the contents of PILs (Patient Information Leaflet) on the Internet. At that time, very few pharmaceutical companies were publishing PIL information online. And today, little has changed, with many companies not publishing this patient information on their own websites, let alone on arguably the world’s most popular information source, Wikipedia.

One company that has been proactive about publishing patient information about pharmaceutical products is GlaxoSmithKline, with its health.gsk website incorporating detailed product information for both the public and healthcare professionals.

While some might want to shy away, yet again, from putting the information ‘out there’ on Wikipedia; who better to do it than those best equipped to do so? The very makers of the product who have an inherent interest in the correct portrayal of their brands and products. By doing so pharma will engage the global community and share their knowledge – not for the sake of publicity or profit but for the sake of accurate information.

If it is accepted that pharmaceutical companies should make accurate product patient information available publicly, then they arguably also have a duty to correct misinformation concerning their own products and make a knowledge contribution. That has potential to build significant goodwill, and, dare I say it – is the whole point of a place like Wikipedia where there is open sharing and self-policing of content that neither wants nor invites the meddling of bureaucrats nor for companies to shamelessly plug their wares.

Wikipedia is a global community resource and in my view perhaps the best thing to happen to the Internet – ever. And pharmaceutical companies can play their part in making it even better.

Creation Healthcare advises pharmaceutical and healthcare companies about how the Internet is changing their world, helping them to develop regulatory compliant strategies for effective digital engagement. To find out how Creation Healthcare could help you, contact us.