Pharma took a small but significant step toward making use of online social networking sites last week, as Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil Pediatrics launched an unbranded group called "ADHD Moms" on the popular social networking site Facebook, in an effort to connect with mothers of children with ADHD.
The group is not product-specific, nor are there any advertisements for the company's ADHD drug Concerta (methylphenidate). McNeil's sole presence on the site is a corporate banner ad below the fold that a spokesperson said was included for the purpose of complete transparency.
"We wanted to look at a new way to provide information about ADHD to caregivers," said Tricia Geoghegan, a spokesperson for McNeil Pediatrics. "We looked at the growing demographic of mothers—32 million today—that are going online for healthcare information, and decided that it would be interesting to provide a resource in the Facebook landscape."
McNeil purposely chose to sponsor and facilitate the Facebook group instead of establishing its own corporate sub-site to establish a "for caregivers by caregivers" environment that it knew people were going to for information.
One Small Step for Online
It's a big deal that Ortho is working on Facebook; experts point out that the company is not yet making use of the medium's capabilities for creating two-way conversations. The page currently hosts a list of external groups, links to podcasts, and information about the group contributors, plus articles about ADHD.
At press time, for example, the site's lead article was a letter to parents from pediatrician Patricia Quinn listing general information about the disorder and different behavioral techniques parents can use to work with their children. The site does not currently offer a comment feature or any way for outside parties to communicate with Quinn or the other group contributors.
"Ortho-McNeil's Facebook effort is on par with what we're seeing in the industry in terms of not enabling a two-way dialogue," explained Ignite Healthcare founder Fabio Gratton. "But it demonstrates a real understanding and commitment to this space. The next step would be to start actively listening and responding to discussion topics?and become a true participant in the dialogue."
According to Fard Johnmar, founder of Envisions Solutions, what Ortho-McNeil has done with its Facebook page is "seeding"—defined as mobilizing or creating online communities around certain issues, disease states, causes, or health transactions.
"Pharmaceutical companies are not using social technologies in a big way, as far as having conversations directly with people using the technologies, but what Johnson & Johnson has done is develop spaces for people to come together," Johnmar told Pharm Exec. "Those are very high-level engagement-type activities."
While companies like Johnson & Johnson are experimenting with blogs and YouTube, most pharma companies have steered clear of comment forums, and for the most part have been relegated to one-way conversations online. Drug marketers are holding steady until FDA provides some form of guidance about what pharma can and cannot do online.
Gratton, however, thinks change is coming. "I am certain that within the next 6-12 months we will begin to see more and more of that—especially as companies begin to take the e-channel seriously and formulate corporate POVs on how to behave."