Digital Insights: Facebook Regulates Pharma

Pharma companies got a rude awakening this month as Facebook plans to make it mandatory to allow for user comments.

By Michele Vaccarello Wagner, Senior Digital Editor

Facebook. We’re all on it, whether active daily participants, mere voyeurs or just to catch up with friends and family across the country.

Over the past seven years, Facebook has evolved from a small, elite, college social networking portal to a worldwide social phenomenon, promoting its mission to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

As the growing company began trying to monetize its community and content, many businesses began marketing on the site, promoting brands via Facebook “Pages.” Users can “like” brand or company pages and receive updates on product information via their news feeds. Major pharmaceuticals, already very slow to join the social media game, eventually began creating company and brand pages, but with the caveat that, if they so chose, they had the option to turn off the functionality that allows for fan comments.

Their concerns were obvious: many of those “comments” would be critiques, misleading information, or even unproven anecdotes about adverse events and side effects of drug products. Although the industry still awaits, with bated breath, for FDA to issue Social Media Guidance, drug companies are required to report adverse drug effects, even if they comes in the form of a Facebook page comment.

But in May, Facebook announced that it would change the settings on company and brand pages and no longer give drug companies the option to turn off the comments function. Facebook representatives sent emails notifying clients of the changes, which will go into effect on August 15, and explained that their aim is to keep the social media site as an open forum for discussion.

"Previously, pharmaceutical brands could submit a request through their Facebook Sales Representative to disable commenting on their Facebook Page," notes the email, which was posted recently on the website of pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions.

The email also states, however, that pages which are dedicated to prescription drugs (as opposed to company or support group pages), may still be allowed to disable commenting if first approved by Facebook. This may just be, in fact, what keeps Big Pharma on Facebook at all.

Peter Pitts and Brad McCormick of the communications firm Porter Novelli had this to say: “This will force regulated health companies to examine not only the risk and benefits of Facebook, but of two-way social communication overall. There is no correct choice here. While a Facebook page is not right for every pharmaceutical campaign, we do believe that for most, the benefits far outweigh the risks and could help usher in a new era of pharmaceutical marketing.”

Do you think Big Pharma should have the option to turn off fan comments or should these pages be open forums for discussion? Let me know what you think: mvaccarello@putman.net.

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