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Business & Regulation Business Practice, Digital Technologies

A Four Dimensional Perspective

By Charlie Badham, Senior Manager, Corporate Development, 4D Pharma

At 4D Pharma, we face the same communication challenges as the industry as a whole. The overarching mission here is conveying often complex, and sometimes jargon-heavy information, to less specialist audiences. And that’s particularly important in our space – the microbiome field. Complex science underpins everything we do: drug candidates, particular programs, and even specific clinical trial readouts… it’s a lot, and we have to convey it all to multiple audiences in accessible forms and appropriate language. Here, social media is an excellent tool for reaching each particular audience.

Balance and transparency are also critical. This is not a consumer goods industry – we are not salespeople. These are drugs for serious diseases. We have to present the good with the bad, even if the news is not ideal or completely favorable. In addition, you cannot oversimplify to the point of being potentially misleading. It’s all about finding the right balance for each audience.

Balance also applies to tone, particularly on social media. You need a human element – the benefit of voice and personality that social media offers – but you can’t be lax, because ultimately these are serious topics we are dealing with. At 4D Pharma, we try to present the key information without leaving our message buried in the weeds. If the spectrum of tone runs from “chatting to your mates in the pub” as a zero to an “SEC regulatory filing” as a 100, on social media we’re sitting at about 45; pretty comfortable middle ground.

The companies that handle social media best are the ones that make use of different avenues and different media – in the right context – according to the needs of the situation. In my view, a balanced media presence is the most effective kind of presence – a 30 minute podcast interview can communicate things that a 240 character tweet cannot (and vice versa).

We try to make sure each channel complements the others. If we feature in a YouTube interview or longer article, we will almost always post it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and our website. Our communication channels work best when they all feed into each other.

The democratization of information enabled by the internet, and social media in particular, is a double-edged sword. On one hand it means that everyone can engage in the conversation, but fundamentally it means nobody is in control of the conversation. What you can do in your role is try and minimize any misleading takeaways or veering turns away from the core information.

The case of vaccine skepticism is a perfect example. Over the last year, we’ve all seen it burgeon online. If you listen to the experts, the message is quite clear. But now, “experts” come with inverted commas. This is hugely down to social media and the way information flows through it. People get into echo chambers, and they end up more entrenched in whatever their initial position was, rather than participating in the “free exchange of ideas” that everybody thought the Internet was going to usher in.

But these echo chambers have real and serious consequences. This is not a debate over sports teams or consumer goods. This is about people’s wellbeing and lives. To overcome that skepticism we have to try really hard to share our message in digestible, understandable, accessible wording. As soon as you start hitting people with statistics and jargon, it can provoke an instinctive defensive reaction, and make your listener shut down in the face of that information. As an industry, we can do much better.

To win over skeptics, we have to break down that trench warfare. On social media, we’ve all seen that an “I’m right, you’re wrong” zero sum game mindset gets us nowhere. If you can give a little bit of ground now, you can win back far more later. By understanding the underlying reasons for skepticism, you can facilitate a real conversation. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but as an overall strategy, bringing people in works better than shaming, mocking, and excluding them.

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