June 15th, 2011
Will Drugmakers Abandon Facebook? Some Might
ast month, Facebook alerted the pharmaceutical industry to a big change in its rules. The famed social media site will no longer allow drugmakers to disable comments posted on newly created pages. And existing pages will no longer be able to do so as of August 15. This means that pharma Facebook pages will soon have a dialogue resembling the rest of the Internet, which is the goal.
Of course, this is problematic for drugmakers, which are uncomfortable - to put it mildly - to allow comments or videos to suddenly appear on their sites due to legal and regulatory concerns. As you know, if someone mentions a side effect or off-label use, a report to the FDA soon follows. In-house lawyers do not like this prospect, although such fears also keep some gainfully employed, yes?
There will be an exception - branded pages solely dedicated to a prescription drug may continue to have commenting functionality removed (back story). Nonetheless, the rule change is causing a great deal of soul searching among drugmakers that insist they want to embrace social media but continue to live in fear of the FDA and what might occur if they are unable to control Facebook content.
And so we asked a few drugmakers about their plans. No, this was not a survey nor was there a large sample size. And in general, Facebook remains a desirable tool. But two big drugmakers - Sanofi and AstraZeneca - acknowledged that, if they cannot overcome any concerns posed by the new rules, walking away from Facebook is an option. Here is what we were told…
“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” an AstraZeneca spokesman wrote us. “We are taking a look at the changes Facebook is making and evaluating how they could impact the company and its regulatory responsibilities.” We then asked this: “Is it fair to say one option is not using Facebook?” The reply, in a word: “Yes.”
Similarly, a Sanofi spokesman sent us this: “We know that patients are increasingly turning to Facebook for information and we feel it is important to be part of the dialogue. We have used moderated comments on Facebook simply as a precaution in the absence of FDA guidance. Our hope is that we can find a way to make it work. We want to stay on Facebook, we want to continue to be part of the dialogue with patients.” What about abandoning Facebook? “I guess it would an option of last resort,” was the response.
On the other hand, a Pfizer spokesman was adamant that Facebook remains part of the strategy. “We’re definitely dedicated to see if we can work out a way to keep the site up and running and populate it with even better content…The challenge is when they make their switch and hold off from comments. It’ll be a hard thing for us…I think we’ve learned enough, at this point, to see how we can continue as robust a dialogue as we can without encroaching on areas of conversations…We’re trying to find a way to bridge that gap.”
And what about walking away? “I don’t see that as an option for us,” we were told. “If we do it, we’re gonna do it well or we’re not gonna do it…At this moment in time, we’re talking hypothetically. The comments section haven’t been turned on, so we’re gonna look and see what happens and make our decisions based on what happens. At this moment, based on converasitons we have internally, we see a significant benefit to keeping the Facebook page open.”
Clearly, there the proverbial wait-and-see approach is in play, but Facebook is going to be carefully scrutinized. And while not every drugmaker may make the same decision, embracing the sort of format that Facebook is pushing will cause a great deal of consternation. Pharma readily acknowledges that having a dialogue with the public is increasingly important, but it would not be surprising if Facebook becomes less important - to some drugmakers - at least, in the short run.