Pharma, Social Media and User-Generated Content
I participated in an encouraging roundtable last week on “Examining the Roles of the FDA and the Pharmaceutical Industry in Social Media” hosted by AstraZeneca. The participants included a variety of pharma marketers, patient advocates, online health companies, social media and health bloggers and industry analysts. The discussion was thoughtful, insightful and exactly the kind of thing that pharma should be doing. Huge kudos to Astra Zeneca for organizing and hosting it.
The roundtable acknowledged that AstraZeneca and other pharma companies have been using social media like Twitter and Facebook to push out communications to the public. These steps have all been positive; but, the pharma social media activity is still largely one-way and the industry has still shied away from the truly interactive features of the Internet.
The group quickly focused on the conventional wisdom that the FDA needs to provide guidance to industry in order to enable pharma companies to more easily engage with consumers online and participate more interactively in social media. While it is clear that there is a need for greater clarity as to how some of the FDA’s existing regulations and guidance apply to the online world, I was pleased that a number of the participants pointed out that there is a lot that can be done right now by pharma to engage more directly with health seekers online – even without further guidance from the FDA.
At HealthCentral, we see huge opportunities for pharma companies to engage directly with the health-seekers on our sites every day, whether it be by answering questions posted by our users, or sponsoring or participating in the increasingly active conversations in our condition-specific communities. Right now, the community areas of our sites where consumer are most engaged and focused on seeking answers to their specific health questions are the areas where pharma companies fear to tread, out of concern about potential accountability for user generated content. Much of this can be done right now without running afoul of existing FDA regulations and guidance on advertising and labeling. Unfortunately, at this point, pharma companies won’t even run ads next to unmoderated user-generated content on third party websites, let alone participate in those conversations.
We discussed this issue at the AZ Roundtable and there are clearly still some legitimate questions that the FDA should clarify – particularly where pharma companies are hosting a website that allows for user-generated content. That said, I think that much of pharma’s apprehension about user-generated content is based on the fear of being next to negative statements about their company or products. However, this is a fear that all marketers face and I think that they are better off engaging in those conversations than not. Lastly, instead of waiting for the FDA to solve everything (which given the ever-changing world of the Internet and social media, it won’t be able to do), Pharma should be more actively engaging health seekers where they are online in ways that don’t raise the regulatory questions. Starting with the activities described above would be another step in the right direction. They have many online partners who are eager to help them.