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Does your social media pass the Turing test?

VP Strategy

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Hollywood is arguably more risk averse than the pharmaceutical industry, a realization that should come as no surprise considering the average film now costs more than a hundred million dollars to produce and market. With stakes that high few investors have the mettle and even fewer the taste to stand behind untested or contentious content, making Tinsel Town more the bastion of disposable derivative entertainment than artistic experimenter and cultural provocateur. The Studios don’t create cool, they repackage it and sell it.

So when  A Beautiful Mind swept the box office and Oscar nominations a decade ago I thought sure, the life of mathematician John Nash is interesting, but when will cinematographers focus on the far more fascinating, significant, and controversial life of Alan Turing? Certainly all the elements for a great movie are there: Literally helping the Allies win WWII, the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. His reward? State mandated hormone therapy, depression, and suicide. Talk about drama!

But sooner or later Hollywood catches up—and thanks to Alan Hodges’ wonderful biography Alan Turing: The Enigma the industry had bestselling, proven content that, no doubt combined with shifting societal opinions regarding gay rights and our continued obsession with technology, finally compelled the creation of the long overdue and eminently worthwhile Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game. Bravo! Turing has received the mainstream appreciation he deserves. Now what about the even quirkier Kurt Godel…?


The Turing Test as “Imitation Game”

With the birth of computers in the 40s came a dual obsession: Self-replicating automata as championed by John von Neumann (think Dr. Strangelove meets Skynet) and artificial intelligence as pursued by just about everyone else. For the latter the question became: How can you determine if a machine is genuinely sentient? To which Turing developed his eponymous test, whereby a simple methodology was constructed essentially around the intuitive truism that “The difference that makes no difference is no difference.”

Rather than internally prove machine intelligence with complex evaluation criteria and protocols as many of his colleagues tried, Turing took an entirely external, behavioural approach, instead defining that a machine is no different from a human when a human can’t tell the difference. His set up is as straightforward as the concept: A human interrogator sits on one side of an opaque partition through which a computer and another human send text only responses to the interrogator’s queries. The interrogator tries to figure out who is who:


Turing Test: can the subject (c) correctly identify the computer (a) vs. the human respondent (b) with no visual cues?

Turing Test: can the subject (c) correctly identify the computer (a) vs. the human respondent (b) with no visual cues?


A computer “passes” the Turing Test if it can successfully imitate a human. Answering a few questions, especially binary “yes/no” ones is easy, but sustained organic responses that make consistent sense and convey intentionality are another matter entirely. Pedal to the metal, how have computers been fairing since 1950? Not well: Meet Eugene, a machine posing as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy who’s English is a second language, hailed by the press as a contender but clearly a far cry from any entity even remotely mimicking the human mind.

Despite the optimism of pundits like Douglas Hoftstadter AI seems as elusive now as when Turing first posed his test. But like so many ideas in science and mathematics a concept can be repurposed with tremendous potential in other, often unexpected areas—in this case, applying the Turing Test to pharma social media. Think about it: All controversy and confusion aside, nobody has ever quantified the effectiveness of our efforts, nor has anyone rigorously defined what success actually looks like in terms of a convincing user experience.


Applying the Turing Test to Pharma Social Media

The analogy is striking, to the point I’m surprised folks haven’t systematized and applied it yet. Reproduce the above graphic, simply swapping out a social media campaign for the computer. The foundational question then becomes: How can you determine if social media is genuinely engaging with your audience? The deterministic machine analogy becomes even more powerful when we acknowledge that within our FDA regulated branded environment each and every response must be pre-approved and fully compliant.

Instead of a machine that convincingly imitates a human mind, we want to create a social media campaign that convincingly imitates a human interaction. And exactly like a computer that relies on pre-programmed, ultimately deterministic algorithms and subroutines to performs its functions, our social media campaign pulls from a diverse library of equally deterministic, pre-approved content that ensures each and every response is fully compliant regarding fair balance concerns, adverse event reporting, and reputation management.

Make sense? A social media campaign connects with its audience when the interactions are as spontaneous, emotional, personal, instantaneous, valuable, and essentially human as possible. Applying the Turing Test can help us measure success or failure—specifically how many interactions until the audience cries foul or feels manipulated?—but how can we engineer a feasible, functional mechanism for creating and distributing enough quality responses to make the social engagement feel as emotionally resonant as possible?


Welcome to the Social Content Marketing Revolution

Not too long ago we toted around 400-slide Manhattan Research decks to substantiate that endocrinologists use Google. Nowadays the challenge isn’t for marketers to acknowledge the ascension of digital, but the reality that social engagement is already integrated into all our content and multichannel touch points. That means “content marketing” has become synonymous with “social media,” in the same way traditional brands have de facto evolved into social brands that communicate directly with their audiences, changing all the rules.

That inexorable shift into social communication demands a sudden and unprecedented level of flexibility, sophistication, and commitment. Gone is the broadcast era of extended content creation and distribution cycles measured in quarters and even years; here is the demand for spontaneity, personalization, and tolerance for error requiring agile creativity and a fresh approach to resourcing and management. The pressure points are exacerbated in healthcare, of course, where the rules are rigorous, the content controlled, the stakes life and death.

So the old school model of laboriously conducting market research, testing content, and blasting it to a passive audience every quarter has collapsed into organic conversations between brands, influencers, and audiences. Akin to the interrogator of the Imitation Game, our patients, caregivers, and healthcare pros sit behind the partition, able, willing, and eager to engage with us, but only so long as the exchange is human and focused on providing value—the required healthcare social content paradoxically spontaneous yet deterministic.


“The Social Media Game”

Yes, we can have our compliant social content and genuine engagement, too. The path forward is two-fold: 1) Pre-approve diverse categories of content, the more the better; and 2) Find a community manager who understands your brand, your audience, and social media. The Ghost in the Machine can then spring to sentience with compliant responses augmented by an informed and sympathetic human mind, together embodying your brand or franchise and its personality, values, and exponentially increasing opportunity to connect and share.


Step 1: Content Creation


Step 2: Community Management


Ready or not, the era of the social brand is here. Are you ready for your close up?


Key Takeaways


Do you think the industry is ready to finally embrace the inevitable? Are you curious to apply the Turing Test and Social Content Marketing to your mix? Klick is eager to continue the conversation, and partner with the industry’s top digital health leaders. Follow @SpitzStrategy and the Klick blog for the very latest mHealth news.

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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