Webeditorial 5

WHAT IS 'WEB 2.0'?

Leyna Prince (Medicus International)

Whether we fully understand, or are even aware of the term ‘Web 2.0’, the majority of us visit websites featuring Web 2.0 applications on a daily basis (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter), and the use of this type of site is increasing rapidly. Furthermore, it is predicted that over the coming years, the use of Web 2.0 applications will play a key role in any successful medical communications plan and, as such, it will be important for medical writers to get to know the channels of communication that are available to industry. As such, at the very least, writers should familiarize themselves with the more popular Web 2.0 sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., as well as search engines and other discussion forums.

To gain further insight in to what Web 2.0 is, and the challenges that industry as well as the medical writer will face in embracing the ‘social web’, I conducted a short interview with my colleague Paul Jacobs (Director, Digital and Account Services, Medicus International):

What is ‘Web 2.0’?

If we consider ‘Web 1.0’ first, it is a ‘push model’, in that information is displayed to the user, and that’s it. Web 2.0 applications bring an interactive element to the website, allowing users to comment on, and discuss content with other users (which may have been presented by the website developer or posted by another user), and often to actually create content themselves (e.g. blogs, posting of articles/links for discussion). Web 2.0 is all about the interaction of the users, and how they not only connect with the website developers, but also how they interact with each other.

The structure of the web (i.e. the way it is developed) hasn’t really changed with the advent of Web 2.0 – developers have simply created applications that are built into sites to allow for interaction. For example, posting of streaming video to a website, although ‘creative’ in itself, can really only be considered a Web 1.0 feature, since the content is still ‘pushed’ to the user for viewing only. The addition of an application that allows for comment/discussion alongside the video (YouTube is an example of this), allows the page to now be considered ‘Web 2.0’.

Examples of Web 2.0 websites include Facebook and Twitter – both sites allow people to interact with each other in ‘real time’, allowing people to comment on issues and respond to each other instantly. In the case of Twitter, each comment made by a user can be viewed by all of their ‘followers’ (i.e. their direct connections). Followers may then ‘re-tweet’ your comment to all of their followers (i.e. indirect connections to the user who originally posted the comment). In this way, discussion of a single topic can spread beyond that taking place with your immediate connections and into other groups of unknown individuals. Further, the discussion can be followed by all Twitter users through the use of a ‘tag’ in each comment (e.g. #EMWA), and the use of the Twitter keyword search function.

This is where we come to the ‘social web’ idea – another phrase people are starting to use – which implies that we are all connected via the web, not just through our direct connections, but also second and third degree connections. A good example of this type of Web 2.0 experience is LinkedIn, where a virtual network is created – users are not only linked to their direct, or ‘primary’ connections, but also to indirect or ‘secondary’ connections and ‘group’ connections (i.e. if you are a member of the EMWA LinkedIn group, the other members of that group become a part of your overall network, even if not directly connected to you through the site).

In fact, LinkedIn is very good example of a Web 2.0 experience as not only can you comment on content and interact ‘socially’ with the members of your network, but you can also contribute content yourself (e.g. by posting a topic for discussion on the EMWA LinkedIn group page).

It is widely accepted that the engagement of industry in the ‘social web’ will be vital in the coming years, in order to connect with patients and physicians in a meaningful way. What challenges do you think the industry faces?

Currently, the biggest challenge for industry is the lack of guidance on what is and is not appropriate when engaging with the individuals through the social web (be it with patients, physicians or the general public).

In November 2009, the FDA held an advisory consultation on the subject of industry use of the Web and social media websites/applications, and it has been widely tipped that the FDA will issue interim guidance in Q4 2010. The first issue they may provide guidance on is the posting of ‘short’ information; for example, on Twitter, you only have 140 characters in which to convey your message, and per the ABPI code, the information provided must be balanced within itself, i.e. a link to information that ‘balances’ the statement is not acceptable. How can this be achieved in less than 140 characters? If utilizing Facebook or YouTube to provide information, this is less of an issue since there are really no formal space restrictions. However, given the nature of the social web, it is not attractive or engaging to the typical user of these sites to be presented with overly long copy – the information must still be presented a tight, concise manner. Another type of ‘short’ information that industry will be looking for guidance on is the metadata (i.e. summary of website content) that is embedded in website code and is in search engines (see image below), or the snippet of text you see when you share a link on Facebook. The metadata, again, must be balanced, and must stand alone in terms of gaining regulatory approval for the piece of text.

At the moment it is difficult for industry – many companies are now using Web 2.0 websites but in a Web 1.0 way, in that they are presenting content to users but are restricting the ability of the user to comment. Understandably, companies are concerned about moderation – they do not want people to comment on specific brands, or report adverse events, for example, through a site that is purely intended to promote disease awareness, since this type of interaction would considered to be in breach of codes of practice.

What are the implications for the medical writer?

Writing for Web 2.0 sites is really not all that different to writing for Web 1.0 sites, and since the generation of content by industry for presentation on the internet has been common for many years now, medical writers should have already considered ‘up skilling’ in terms of writing for the web.

If we think about Web 2.0 specifically, the content is much more interactive, and therefore, you need to plan adequately to ensure that you have enough content to keep people engaged over a period of time, encouraging the audience to revisit the site frequently. Further, your writing style/tone needs to illicit a response from the audience – the writer should consider that the intention of the copy is to start a conversation rather than simply ‘push’ information to the user. It’s about sparking a debate, and trying to ‘fire people up’ to start a comment stream.

Finally, although it is not likely that it will fall to the medical writer to make the decision on what content should and should not be posted to the web, particularly industry use of the social web, it is a good idea for the writer to be familiar with any official guidance that is available to industry. As mentioned above, there is currently no formal guidance for industry on the use of social media websites, and therefore, for now, writers should simply ensure that they work within the general guidelines that govern industry interaction with the public (e.g. ABPI code).

Can you recommend any useful resources for the medical writer who would like to learn more about Web 2.0 applications and their use by industry?

The following websites, which regularly provide updates on industry activities using Web 2.0 applications, are recommended:

• John Mack’s (Editor/Publisher of Pharmaceutical Marketing News) blog: http://pharmamkting.blogspot.com/ (Twitter: @pharmaguy)

• Jonathan Richman’s blog, on the Dose of Digital website: http://www.doseofdigital.com/healthcare-pharma-social-media-wiki/ (Twitter: @ jonmrich)

• Paul Jacob’s blog: http://medigital.wordpress.com/

• And for general updates on new technology and features of the social web: http://mashable.com/ (Twitter: @mashable)

Many companies have already started to embrace interaction with patients and the public through social media, and the following sites are worth a visit:

• Janssen’s ‘Living with ADHD’ YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/LivingWithADHD?feature=chclk

• On Facebook: Psoriasis 360, supported by Janssen

• On Twitter (to name but a few): @Novartis, @Roche_com, @sanofiaventisTV

In the spirit of getting to know Web 2.0 applications better, we would like to let us know what you think of this article, or ask any questions you may have, through Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. A notification of the publication of this article has been posted to the EMWA Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and you can add a comment against the post. If you would like to give Twitter a try, you can post a comment to us by including one of our usernames (@LeynaP or @PJ_medigital) in your ‘tweet’ as well as the tag #EMWA.