Facing Down Facebook

Lauren Barnett, Compliance Content Specialist

August 15 brought to an end the days of pharmaceutical companies being able to turn off the comments on their Facebook pages, and oh the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but several companies did take down pages in response. Why? A myriad of reasons that all boil down to fears over being able to remain in compliance with FDA regulations, without any guidance from the agency on the topic. To the FDA I say, get with it. Facebook (as well as other social sites) is how people research and communicate with companies, and with the case of healthcare, others who are in their same situation. Surely the agency has an opinion about how companies can use this medium to communicate with the public without the world caving in and being taken over by ad agencies and marketing departments. But lest you think this is yet another call for FDA guidance on use of social media (which, hello they need to get with it and deliver), let me pose this; the pharmaceutical industry needs to get with the program too. An article in Pharma Times said the following:

“Drugmakers say they are concerned that commentators may reference side effects or proffer medical advice, or mention brands without ‘fair balance,’ although critics of the stance argue their reluctance stems more from a lack of understanding about social media and fears about loss of control over brand image.”

I think the “critics” have a point; the industry may just not understand social media. Facebook is a great way to “advertise,” but that isn’t what it’s for, and to reduce it to just another to advertising vehicle is to do your brand a disservice. I see it as a great way to reach out to patients and share information, but whether the industry sees it the same way remains to be seen. As for brand image control, I’m not sure I buy that one as a reason for reluctance, because many companies manage to have a Facebook page that allows comments, and those companies have not yet had their brand image ruined. If one of the fiercest guardians of brand image, Disney, can have multiple Facebook pages, I think the pharmaceutical industry can handle it too.

Yes, the industry does have regulatory concerns to deal with, yes the FDA needs to join us here in the 21st century and provide some guidance, but if the industry really wants to get involved with social media, it needs to loosen up a bit, and let social media be social.

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