Are You There Facebook? It’s Me, Pharma.


By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)

Who controls the conversation about your brand in the social media space?

You? The consumer? The FDA?

Those are the usual suspects that come up when we have those conversations in Pharma but these days there’s another player we need to add to the mix.

The platform.

And nowhere is that more evident than in Pharma’s dealings with the 800 lb. gorilla in social media … Facebook.

For most digital consumers, Facebook and social media may as well be synonomous. It’s the service they feel most comfortable with and the environment where they spend the most time online. And it’s definitely been a place where numerous patient communities (both “civilian” and sponsored) and healthcare discussions have taken place.

But Facebook has always presented a problem for Pharma. Not just because of the open nature and volume of the discussions (with the inherent risks of AE reporting and discussion of off label use) but also due to the fluid nature of the environment. For many pharma companies, it was bad enough that FB took away their ability to disable posting on page walls. But the latest changes to Facebook are even more troublesome.

By the end of the month Facebook plans to introduce its “timeline” feature to all FB pages. And unlike the previous format, the new design and copy requirements are tremendously restrictive. “Cover photos” in the new format are not allowed to have any call to action or contact information on them (anyone see problems with the FDA and disclosure issues arising from that). And the entire timeline format has major restrictions on things like copy length that can cause problems with fair balance compliance and any number of issues.

Of course, the other issue that challenges Pharma marketers is the timetable for implementation of these new features. Facebook officially announced the change on February 29th and all pages will be converted by the end of March. So that gives Pharma companies four weeks to figure out the new format, adjust copy and graphics accordingly and submit to JRC for approval. Does that sound like an achievable schedule for anyone in our industry?

It’s clear from Facebook’s announcement text (“this is a mandatory update”) that they are the ones in control here. It’s their ball and if you don’t like it you can go home. And it’s also clear that Pharma doesn’t even get a chair at the table when these issues are discussed. I’m sure Coca-Cola and other big advertisers were consulted about this before the change was made but I’m equally sure that no one from our industry was contacted by Zuckerberg and Co. (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). So if Pharma is going to play their game we need to do a couple of things:

1) Every company needs a digital or social media expert (either in house or on retainer) that can brief their marketing teams about upcoming changes to platforms like Twitter and Facebook so that solutions can be rolled out in a timely manner.

2) As an industry, we need to reach out to social media networks and make them aware of the special needs of Pharma. we need to explain how the regulations we live with everyday were put in place to protect consumers and how the changes social media creators make to their product can adversely impact those consumers.

3) We also need to make the FDA and other regulatory bodies aware of these issues. We need to form a partnership (rather than an adverserial relationship) with government so that they can use their influence to help socila media networks understand the impact of their actions.

The only way we can have any control of the dialogue surrounding our brands is to engage with those who are hosting and managing the conversations.

Isn’t it about time we started talking?



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