For some companies and hospitals, creating Facebook pages might seem too good to be true. This type of social media provides a soft-sell opportunity for products and services and also a means to create a closer relationship with customers and patients (see: Why and How Hospitals Should Market Themselves to Consumers on the Web; Should Hospitals Set Up Private Social Networks for Their Patients?). The appeal of Facebook has not been lost on Big Pharma companies that have been setting up their own pages. However, Facebook management is now forcing these companies to enable commenting and this is causing problems (see: Facebook Forces Pharma to Show Comments). Below is an excerpt from the article:
Facebook [has] enabled commenting on some drug companies pages..., a move that is forcing some to close their pages altogether, while other reassess their comment moderation policies. Most Facebook pages have commenting, but the site allowed pharma companies to turn off that feature because the companies might be liable for inappropriate or misleading comments in ways other industries are not. Drug companies are obligated to act on comments about adverse events, for example, and because commenters may share non-expert medical advice that could have the appearance of being promoted by the company, many preferred to shutter the comments section altogether....The new policy does not mean that all pharma pages will be open, however. Facebook will still allow companies to block comments on the pages set up for specific drugs, but commenting will be allowed on the main company page. But even for those pages, there are at least two real reasons why comments are a problem for pharma companies....First, drug companies have been waiting for guidance on the use of social media from the FDA for two years (see: FDA Gearing Up to Regulate Smartphone Apps and Social Media? Or Not?). They currently rely on regulations about communicating with the public that were relevant back when print and television were the standard modality. Second, while companies could monitor comments with available software, many appear hesitant to devoting ongoing resources to social media, and resistant to making the pages more of an educational platform than a marketing campaign. Some companies that have closed pages include Amgen, Bayer, Astra Zeneca’s Take on Depression page, and two of Johnson & Johnson’s pages on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Notably, Sanofi, whose page has 66,000 “likes,” and Pfizer have kept their pages open, according to the Washington Post.
Some media observers have speculated that Facebook is a better advertising opportunity than Google Adwords because a closer relationship can be developed with customers. With Adwords, the advertiser's message is only displayed as the result of a search. However, the downside with social media like Facebook is that they are collaborative and interactive. No problem says Big Pharma -- we will just block comments on our Facebook page. Unfortunately, Facebook management is forcing these companies to now enable commenting. This is forcing the drug companies to abandon their Facebook pages because user comments can cause problems for the companies. For example, comments might include reports of adverse reactions to drugs or non-medical advice. These can get the companies in trouble with the FDA.
Where to turn? There are, of course, direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads on TV that I personally would like to see prohibited (see: Effectiveness of "Direct-to-Consumer" Drug Advertisements). Here's the crux of the problem as I see it. Prescription drugs can only be ordered by physicians. Only physicians understand the signs and symptoms of disease and the specific profile of the patients for whom they prescribe drugs. Therefore, educational and marketing efforts of drug companies should only be directed toward physicians. The problem for the drug companies is that "detailing," direct sales efforts directed to physicians, has become too expensive and the companies are turning to e-detailing (see: How E-Detailing May Lead to Greater Knowledge by Physicians about Drugs). The companies get more "bang for the buck" with DTC advertisements and social media such as Facebook. This latter path now seems to be backfiring.