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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19624

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Electronic Source

Ferrell C
No Dog Days of Summer in Pharma Social Media
Cutting Edge Information 2011 Aug 22

Full text:

So much for the dog days of summer. August has been anything but sleepy in pharma’s corner of the social media universe. Facebook turned on the commenting function for pharma walls. As a result, more than a dozen pharma-sponsored pages were shut down. Some of those that decided to stay on Facebook have already encountered rough seas. And to top it off, PhRMA stepped in to call out the FDA for the ongoing delay in issuing its long-awaited guidance on social media and the Internet. The action is beginning to feel like a summer blockbuster’s twisting cliffhangers.

Let’s start with Facebook and the changes. Here and elsewhere, the changes were written about extensively. In short, pharma-sponsored pages could have the commenting and liking feature turned off, allowing them to broadcast to but not interact with their Facebook fans. Facebook decided this didn’t align with its social networking philosophy of interactivity and announced it would revoke that privilege on what the blogosphere dubbed “D-Day” (or August 15, for everyone else).

Several companies seized the moment as an opportunity for transparency and open communication. For example, Tony Jewell, the senior director for external communications at AstraZeneca, joined a popular tweetchat to field questions about AZ’s internal social media decision-making process. Jewell explained that brand teams themselves made the decision to shutter their individual Twitter and Facebook presences, while AZ corporate opted to keep its accounts open. One highlight of the exchange came when Jewell responded to the much-ballyhooed threat of uncovering adverse events through social media. “AEs aren’t worrisome. We know what to do with AEs, whether they are shared verbally, SM, in crayon or whatever,” he tweeted, following up with, “We actually seek AEs on twitter thru the @AZHelps acct and tell them where to report them.”

Further examples of transparency can be found on the pharma Facebook walls that did stay up. Prominently displayed new disclaimers explain why some comments have to be removed and why certain topics are off-limits for compliance reasons.

There were casualties. A number of disease awareness and branded product pages got folded into their corporate page to reduce the likelihood of fielding noncompliant comments (i.e. mentions of the disease state or a specific prescription product.) AstraZeneca, for example, took down its “Take on Depression” page while keeping its main “AstraZeneca US Community Connections” page up. Johnson & Johnson dismantled four of its own successful disease state pages.

While the Twittersphere buzzed with comments on the “Deathwatch” for pharma Facebook pages and the blogosphere overflowed with punditry, my sense is that this hardly registered on the radar of the average person, let alone the average marketer or healthcare professional. In many ways, the entire affair was — and is — a tempest in a teapot. Companies large and small, from Boehringer Ingelheim to Teva, have had Facebook pages up with comments enabled since their inception. The FDA hasn’t issued any notifications of noncompliance to those sites, and they have been able to plug along without incident.

PhRMA, which has generally been quiet on social media, entered the fray with a blog post asking the FDA to release its near-mythological guidance. In a shot across the bow, the trade association, citing the FDA’s numerous social media presences, argued that its “companies aim to be able to be just as engaged in discussions about health and science as the agency that regulates them.” New data collected by Cutting Edge Information for an upcoming digital marketing report reveals that the lack of FDA guidance is the highest hurdle limiting pharma’s use of social media.

One quality defines social media more than anything else — interactivity — and those companies that waited late in the game to engage are experiencing the growing pains of doing so, while others are further along the road toward an integrated marketing strategy that accepts the premise of social media as a necessary and permanent channel in which to participate.


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