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Pharmacy and social media – the truth and why we need a fearless independent press

Johnathan Laird



There are so many good things about social media but here I try to unpick some of the bits I’m not so keen on.


“It should never be assumed that social media relates in any way to reality.”


I wrote an article about a million years ago about how one should try, in the virtual world, to behave and project oneself as closely as possible to how you are in the real world. I try to do this but it is clear that many don’t. I think it must be some kind of primitive need to compete that drives us to this. The whole process is pointless. No-one cares.


“No-one cares about you or your happy self-congratulatory borderline narcissistic idyllic picture perfect handcrafted carefully edited family photo, except you. And maybe the others in the photo.”


This one isn’t strictly accurate because I do take genuine pleasure occasionally when I see pharmacists or others recognised or appreciated online.


“Everyone is trying to control everyone else.”


Recently I have noticed the rise of the private supergroups using platforms like WhatsApp but more recently Telegram. I think these are useful however my view is that the optimum number of members is actually about 20. With numbers above this level, you get the few that are stuck on ‘transmit’ and the rest of the group are lurkers. The sinister thing about these groups is the need for the admins to control conversations. It is interesting to me these people want to gain control in some small way over the conversations that happen here. This need for control has driven people to exist in these groups rather than the open ocean of other platforms like Twitter. If you can generate a certain number of members in a group and gather some basic information on registration (e.g. professional registration number) then there is something to sell to potential advertisers or to use to influence politically. There are some notable examples of this in pharmacy and these groups ‘punch above their weight’ in terms of influence I feel.


“A large following means nothing.”


The number of followers you have means little except perhaps that you probably publish frequently, as I do. It doesn’t mean you are an amazing pharmacist. It doesn’t mean you are a particularly successful person. It just means that quite a few people have engaged with your content and this is likely to be higher if you generate loads of content.


“Everyone wants to be a have a go editor.”


Back in the olden days, the commercial side of a publication would often come to blows with the editorial side. Editorial integrity and independence from financial coercion was, and still is, vital. The trouble with social media is that it has created a ‘wild west’ where bloggers particularly can blur the lines between these two sides and combine them under one roof. This has meant that some bloggers often write about products or services but hide this commercial interest behind the portrayal of their personal ‘story’. For the record, our policy at Pharmacy in Practice is to keep the two separate and if an article has been commissioned (always welcome by the way!) we will declare it as such and refer to it as an ‘advertisement feature’.


“You are the product.”


Now this one is a bit close to home because, due to the global stratospheric rise of Pharmacy in Practice, some companies have asked if they can advertise next to our blogs. I feel we deliver mostly interesting and some useful content in our spare time so this is a fair trade-off. I think many others, don’t mind adverts sitting beside content that is free but platforms like Facebook and the invasive tactics are a bit much. Facebook has a shiny front end which has the sole purpose of gathering data on you the reader whilst you scroll through your neighbours’ family pictures. Like many disastrous inventions throughout history, I believe that Facebook started off as a force for good. Now it’s about money. We better hope it doesn’t become about influence because that would be bad news. Bad news for democracy because so much influence and therefore power would sit with one person. As with any aspect of life being upfront and honest is the key here. There are obviously questions being raised about the behaviour of some social media networks in this regard.


“Fake news.”


Fake news is as fake news does.


“Beware of those people who report news before it is news.”


I think this could actually be worse than ‘fake news’. It is the phenomenon of ‘before it is news’. So the tweet reads; “Awesome meeting with x. Looking forward to the next meeting. We are so aligned.” This is not news and wouldn’t make it into any self-respecting news feed of an independent publication but this type of thing is rife on social media.


“On social media people generally behave generally in a way where there is a perceived benefit to themselves and avoid acting in a way that will be detrimental to themselves.”


The classic example of this is retweeting something tweeted by the organisation you work for. The flip side of this is that people will generally not openly criticise an organisation they work for or with. These facts make people beautifully predictable on social media. My top tip on social media is to watch for patterns. I find it far more interesting to see who doesn’t like one of my tweets than someone who does. People are partisan and they will abide by the two rules above. If you are interested in stakeholder management this is a great way to work out whether someone is actively or passively supportive of you or actively or passively in opposition to you. Try it out with any well known ‘pharmacy leader’, great fun.


“Social media has made organisations much more cautious about sharing information.”


Organisations, be they governmental or otherwise, now prefer to keep news in-house. Again this is a disappointing side effect of social media and this act of keeping news in-house, in my view, has stifled independent sharing of information and on occasion encourages the confusion again between commercial and editorial content. A confident organisation should have no hesitation in sharing and being outward-facing.


“And finally.”


Be polite, be honest and beware the shadow you cast especially to more junior members of the profession.


That was cathartic, thanks for making it this far.


I guess I am very fortunate to now be in an editorial role and guiding the direction of my own pharmacy publication. My broad editorial ethos is basically to champion the role of the pharmacist across all sectors and challenge the rubbish.


I must remember to stick to my own rules.

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