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Making the Most of Social Media (Within FDA’s New Guidelines)


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical companies have begun using social media for business needs and promotion, yet have been hesitant to become too engaged since the FDA’s stance on social media activity remained unclear.

Pharmaceutical companies have begun using social media for business needs and promotion, yet have been hesitant to become too engaged since the FDA’s stance on social media activity remained unclear. But now that we know the FDA’s specific guidelines for pharma companies’ actions online, it’s time for brands to consider diving into the social media pool.

What FDA Regulations Mean for You
But before we dive in too deep, here’s a refresher on what the FDA guidelines do:

  • They clearly define interactive promotional media as “modern tools and technologies that often allow for real-time communications and interactions (e.g., blogs, microblogs, social networking sites, online communities, and live podcasts) and that firms use to promote their drugs.”

  • They explain that pharma companies are not responsible for user-generated content.

  • They stress that it’s the company’s responsibility to monitor information disseminated on and throughout its sponsored sites and accounts.

How to Make the Most of Social Media (Within FDA Guidelines)
So, what does that mean for your company?

The FDA guidelines simply outline the proper use and behavior of pharma companies utilizing social media, just as there are guidelines for drug testing, marketing, and label warnings. With this new information, here’s what your company should do:

  • Establish a company presence on social media. If your brand is not already engaged in social media, start today. It’s a great way to promote products, connect with consumers, and shape the conversation surrounding your brand, rather than let the online community shape it for you.

  • Pay close attention to alliances with third-party sites. Your company is responsible for any promotion when you have any influence or control on third-party sites. Third parties don’t like to be told what to do, and they often use your material as they see fit - even if it contradicts your original intent. Choose and monitor your partnerships wisely.

  • Recognize the blurred lines of personal and professional. Any time an employee acts on a company’s behalf - even if it’s with a personal account - the company is responsible for the content, which will be held to the same FDA guidelines for conduct. It must be made clear that every team member is an online representative of the company.

  • Maintain thorough documentation. It may be a time-consuming process, but providing accurate and timely documentation for all displays is important. Once a month, submit an updated listing of all non-password-protected sites that you’re responsible for, including interactive and real-time communications, and submit screenshots or other visual representation for restricted-access sites.

  • Set up a monitoring team. Social media is incredibly fast-paced, so you need to have a team devoted to monitoring online content and checking the accuracy of distributed information. Inaccurate information shared by third-party users can seriously hurt your brand and even lead to legal turmoil, so keeping an eye on your accounts and the information being shared is vital.

Making Pharma and Social Media Work Together
There are already great examples of pharma companies using social media in innovative ways. At last year’s European Respiratory Society Congress, Boehringer Ingelheim became the first pharmaceutical company to host a disease-focused Twitter hangout. Using #COPDChat to spawn conversations over four continents, the hangout made more than 1.7 million impressions and led to a 7-percent jump in the number of Twitter followers for the company.

Sanofi has fostered trust with its users by being forthright about its policies on monitoring user content on Internet properties. User comments are quarantined - delayed up to 24 hours before appearing publicly - so a Sanofi team member can provide additional information to clarify user questions or comments. Sanofi’s online community values its efforts to provide thorough and accurate information while maintaining transparency.

Device company Medtronic has made itself highly approachable to consumers by having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, where users can ask questions directly of the company and receive enthusiastic responses and helpful information. That accessibility is part of the reason Medtronic now has more than 154,000 Facebook fans.

Just as social media changed the way our society communicates, it can change the way a pharma company interacts with consumers, promotes products or services, and is perceived by the public.

Establishing social media accounts for your brand will empower consumers to seek additional information, report issues, and provide feedback. At the same time, it allows you the opportunity to correct misinformation, soothe agitated customers, offer helpful resources, and display goodwill toward consumers. If your company uses these social media tips, you’ll be more engaged with and trusted by customers than ever before.

Ken Ribotsky is CEO of Brandkarma LLC.  He can be reached at Kenneth.ribotsky@yahoo.com

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