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What Pharmaceutical Marketers Can Do in the Absence of FDA Social Media Guidance

Posted by | 11:44am on Monday, April 4, 2011
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there are lots of tactics that are possible right now – and examples of companies that are using them 

For the past few months, one of the most popular questions among pharmaceutical marketers has been: Will the FDA release social media guidelines or not?  Well, the current answer is no.

The FDA’s latest self-imposed deadline (first quarter of 2011) has passed without draft guidance. Industry veterans who attended the first hearing on the internet back in 1996 are unsurprised. The lack of formal guidance on the internet hasn’t stopped pharma/biotech companies from taking full advantage of the power of the web. The good news: even without FDA guidance on social media there are lots of tactics that are possible right now – and examples of companies that are using them.

It’s the Message, Not the Medium
Pharmaceutical marketers should continue to apply existing FDA guidelines to the internet and social media. Be sure to focus on applying fair balance. The majority of letters received regarding social media, such as YouTube or Facebook, have focused on issues with the message not the medium.

The Pharma Social Media Basics
Here are some low-risk social media tactics that every pharmaceutical company should be considering.

Listen and Learn: Patients, caregivers and, increasingly, physicians are online talking about health and medicines. Monitor the social media space to find out what people are saying about your company, brand and your competitors. People are out there talking, so listen in and learn from what they are saying. This can be valuable market research. Whether you do this in-house or via an interactive agency, any potential adverse events can be reported through the usual channels. Through this online listening, brand managers can identify the unmet needs of the target audience and provide ideas for how pharma can add value. It can give key insights such as the language the audience is using, how pharma can offer support and how well current tools and materials are performing.

Educate: Educate not only brand teams but the medical, legal and regulatory teams. This understanding of social media and what other pharmaceutical companies are doing is essential. Take advantage of your agency partners who will be happy to share knowledge. Work to develop internal social media champions.

Develop Internal Guidelines: Pharmaceutical employees are using social media. Leadership should be providing guidelines.

Start with Unbranded: It’s much safer and easier to start using social media for corporate communications, customer service and unbranded disease awareness efforts. Partnering with an online “trust agent,” such as a patient organization, can be a great way to start.

Social Sharing Tools: Used on websites these buttons and widgets make it easy for visitors to share material.  Be sure the content not only follows fair balance but that it is shareworthy, i.e. content that adds value and people will truly want to share.

Be Careful What You Wish For
There is the possibility that, despite the FDA using social media extensively themselves, the guidance could be restrictive. For now, at least, we are spared this.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below and let me know what you think.

(Image courtesy of Marco Bellucci on Flickr.)

About Eileen O'Brien

Eileen has more than 16 years of digital healthcare marketing experience. She is an opinion leader on social media and biopharma, and has been invited to speak at industry conferences and quoted in publications.

View other posts from Eileen

9 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • http://prinpink.wordpress.com Krista Giuffi

    This is probably one of the more optimistic posts I’ve read about the FDA social media guidance delay!

    Great advice, Eileen–it’s very helpful! I think a lot of folks in the industry are hitting their heads on their desks at the delay. But to your point, there are existing pharma guidelines that they can apply already. And social media need not be a campaign like the Old Spice Guy, but rather, a more basic foray into the waters until they can determine its value to the marketing communications strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/eileenobrien Eileen O’Brien

    Thanks for your comment Krista. I like your reference to the Old Spice Guy — yes, pharma will never be that cutting edge :) And based on the serious nature of our industry, we probably shouldn’t be.

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  • http://twitter.com/Semantelli Semantelli

    Great post Eileen.. You put it very well. It’s the Message, Not the Medium.

    As long as you ensure internal AE and REMS policies are followed, nothing should prevent pharma companies from listening to or engaging in social media. Social media is just another channel (This is what FDA said in the last hearing).

    We are seeing a significant up-tick in customer interest ever since we released our “compliance ready” social media platform. Companies are taking the next steps to integrate our platform into internal AE/REMS processes so that there are no issues of compliance when it comes to listening or engaging in social media.

    Siva Nadarajah
    VP, Product Strategy and Development
    Semantelli Corp.


    “Compliance Ready, Life Sciences Specific Social Media Platform enhancing CRM, Market Research, Drug Discovery and Competitive Intelligence”

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