The FDA Makes Almost Daily Use of Social Media, What is Stopping You?

Pharma IQ

GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and AstraZeneca – just three of the pharmaceutical companies which have turned to social media in an effort to boost their public profile and eventually increase sales of their products.

However, there are some inherent contradictions which exist between social media and pharmaceutical marketing. The former is a largely unregulated platform, while the later has a raft of legislation and regulations to comply with.

The UK's Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority has recently published guidance on pharmaceutical companies using the platform, in which it states firms "can use any method of communicating to any audience, providing the relevant requirements of the code are followed."

Over in the United States, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is yet to decide on regulation, although efforts to create guidelines about its use are said to be being drawn up.

In the eyes of the industry, however, it is clear social media is a powerful marketing tool.~

Advantages of social media

Commenting ahead of the anticipated release of the FDA's social media guidance, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) expressed its optimism for the future use of the technology.

Jeffrey K Francer, PhRMA's general counsel, said: "There are incredible potential public health benefits to using electronic media in healthcare, including allowing innovative companies to provide truthful, scientifically accurate FDA-regulated information."

He added: "We note that FDA itself is making almost daily use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Clearly, social media can be used to discuss new medical advances in appropriate ways that benefit patients and healthcare professionals and improve the public health."

His claims are backed up by research from WEGO Health, which polled more than 200 'health activists' who use social media to engage with members of the public.

Some 63 percent of respondents to the survey said they would describe the use of social media for communications between healthcare companies and internet users as important. A similar number said any regulations produced by the FDA must be designed toward the "unique attributes of the internet and social media".

Further to this, 60 percent of respondents believe companies should actively seek to monitor and correct information about their products which has been posted online.

Pharmaceutical companies using social media

Major pharmaceutical companies, however, have not been concerned about waiting for FDA guidance before using social media to promote awareness of health conditions and campaigns and ultimately their brand.

Among those leading the way is AstraZeneca, which recently held what is believed to be the first ever Twitter chat sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, on the subject of prescription savings programmes.

It also launched its Take On Depression campaign through social media in October 2010, citing figures showing one-third of US adults look to the medium for health information.

The Facebook page was designed to offer tools and resources to support those suffering from bipolar and MMD, while the Twitter feed was updated with links to websites, articles and tips which the company believes will help sufferers better understand their condition.

Sandy Sommer, executive director and commercial brand leader at AstraZeneca, said: "With the launch of these Facebook and Twitter pages, AstraZeneca hopes to amplify conversations about mental health and provide important health information in innovative ways."

Sanofi-Aventis has similarly been looking to capture the interest of the online health community with its Discuss Diabetes blog and WhyInsulin YouTube channel, which came off the back of Twitter and Facebook pages".

"We plan to take the information we gain from listening and engaging in dialogue and will use that to improve the content of our existing offerings and help make them more relevant to the diabetes community," Dennis Urbaniak, vice president of the company's United States diabetes unit, told Medical Marketing & Media.

Even contract research organisations, including Quintiles, Covance and Cato, are posting on Twitter information about research development and trial recruitment. And with guidance on the sector soon to be published, more are likely to go down this path in the future.