Pharma and Social Media: Ready to Make Nice?

As companies prepare to reformulate their Facebook strategies in light of the recent changes regarding the disabling of comments on pharma pages, the time is right for industry to overcome its social media phobia once and for all
Sep 01, 2011

Reading about pharma's bumpy relationship with social media is a little like following celebrity marriage plans in the tabloids. One minute it's on, the next it's off. On again, off again.

Throwing pharma and social media together brings an unprecedented opportunity to reach an audience that is growing exponentially alongside unparalleled opportunities for stakeholder engagement. Pushing them apart are old familiar worries about adverse event and off-label discussions compounded by the delay of FDA guidelines.

The constant to-and-fro seems to be creating a real sense of social media fatigue in parts of the industry, but could pharma really call it a day and bow out of the biggest social communications revolution in history?

"Going dark" is not really much of an option, argues Thomas L. Harrison, CEO of Omnicom Group, in an August Pharm Exec blog post about the challenges pharma faces in working with Facebook's new mandate. Beginning Aug. 15, Facebook mandated that only pages dedicated solely to a prescription drug have the option to disable commenting. Harrison believes that companies that abandon Facebook will miss out on a "powerful community that is already woven into billions of lives whose voices want and need to be heard." This has to hold true for other social media platforms, from Twitter to bespoke disease or therapeutic communities.

So how can pharma make its relationship with social media work?

The answer is "carefully," according to independent consultant Alexandra Fulford on her http://pharmaGuapa.com/ blog. London-based Fulford outlines an approach based on the "Stop, Look & Listen" technique used to teach schoolchildren how to cross the road without getting run over.

Stop: Pharma needs to cease being afraid of social media; instead, see it as just another communication channel, and wait to see what will happen. Progress can be made within the current regulatory system.

Look: Don't run into the middle of the road; look first to see what other pharma companies have done and are currently doing in the social space. Learn from their mistakes and their successes.

Listen: All successful social media initiatives have one key action in common: listening. In a two-way medium it is vital to listen to what your target audience is discussing and to keep listening.




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