Yes, the pharmaceutical industry received some sort of social media guidance from FDA in December of 2011. No, it did not actually provide clear-cut guidelines for social media participation or digital marketing for that matter. Regardless, it appears Big Pharma is plowing full steam ahead, anyways, testing the waters with innovative social media tools and new technologies to educate consumers and market their brands.
Pfizer, for example, is linking Google search ads, not directly to their site, but to their brand specific YouTube channels which provide more streamlined results for users. A Google search ad that reads, "Counterfeit Pills Can Be Dangerous," now links to a Viagra YouTube channel where visitors can watch a series of investigative reports on how counterfeit drugs are manufactured, trafficked, and sold to consumers by illegal online pharmacies.
Pfizer hopes to use standard search ads not just to drive traffic to their Viagra brand, but also alert customers to the dangers of counterfeit drugs and educate them to legitimate online pharmacies. The initiative also hopes to push down illegal pharmacies that appear organically on Google searches.
Boehringer-Ingelheim is also using social media tools in its digital marketing campaigns through the creation of an interactive game called Syrum. Still in Beta testing, Syrum will allow players to attack deadly diseases from virtual laboratories and work with friends to discover and market new drugs. The game will also allow players to learn more about drug patents and participate in clinical trials.
A recent ClickZ.com article cited Alison Woo, director of social media for Bristol-Myers Squibb, saying that the game initiative "shows a willingness to be in the space and test things out,” and suggested it may also help the industry at large to "overcome reputation challenges," referring to the typically cautious approach taken by pharma brands using social media.
Even if FDA’s recently published draft guidance for pharma marketers only somewhat satisfied requests for clearer social media rules, Big Pharma seems to be proving that social media can be used effectively. If FDA does have this guidance on a lower priority, pharmaceutical companies are finding ways to help and educate patients and consumers anyways.