I have posted a number of previous notes about how pharmaceutical companies have been experimenting with social media despite indications that the FDA views such activities with great suspicion (see, for example: FDA Gearing Up to Regulate Smartphone Apps and Social Media? Or Not?; Limitations Placed on Big Pharma Facebook Pages; FDA Issues Warning Letter to Drug Company about Use of Instagram). I am personally opposed to any presence at all of pharma on the social media -- they are too tempted to use if for marketing and the landscape is so vast that it would be difficult to monitor their activities. Now comes news that pharma is "getting social" as hosts of Twitter on-line "tweet chats" (see: Pharma gets social: Ten tweet chats transforming pharma digital engagement). Here is an excerpt from the this article:
The past few years have seen healthcare companies take to Twitter increasingly to host and participate in public online conversations with stakeholders, including healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients. Even in the regulated pharmaceutical industry, open 'tweet chats' are now becoming popular tactics for engaging audiences on a particular topic. Tweet chats are usually time-limited conversations on Twitter in which anybody may take part by using a common 'hashtag' – a single word preceded by a hash (#) character. Pharma companies hosting a tweet chat do so by announcing the time and topic of a chat and typically stimulate engagement through a series of conversation-starting questions. 'Hashtags are like campfires: people gather around them to have conversations,' claims Twitter in its case study of Boehringer Ingelheim's (BI) COPD Twitter campaign. The 'fire' analogy is particularly appropriate: just like a tweet chat, a campfire can be a safe place where people share stories, but this environment needs good planning to keep it safe. The first ever pharma-hosted tweet chat was, I believe, AstraZeneca's (AZ) #rxsave chat, which took place in early 2011. The chat generated hundreds of tweets from a diverse group of stakeholders....Even before AZ's #rxsave chat, Pfizer was an early pioneer of using Twitter to engage patients on health topics. In 2010 it launched @ManMOTUK, a Twitter profile for UK audiences in collaboration with the Men's Health Forum. The company actively encouraged men to talk directly and confidentially with doctors about sensitive health matters during weekly live surgeries hosted on its ManMOT website. Although not strictly a tweet chat, Twitter hashtag #manmot was used to promote the initiative.
There is a web site, TweetChat, where one can enter the relevant hashtag and see the isolated conversation comprising a Twitter conversation. Obviously, this can be done at an appointed day and time to participate in the live conversation or after the fact. Such apps make it very easy to focus on the content of a tweet chat and exclude all other distracting tweets. A question that arose in my mind is how a company like AstraZeneca would initially attract a sufficient number of Twitter followers such that they would be made aware of the date and time of a subsequent live chat. The obvious answer lies in the hashtag cited in the article above relating to AstraZeneca -- #rxsave. The company bait is a discussion about how to save on the sometimes ferocious costs of drugs. The irony is that the discussion is hosted by the company that is actually setting these prices. This reminds me of the so-called "patient assistance programs" launched by some pharma companies (see: Patient Assistance Programs Keep Drug Prices High and May Actually Be Illegal). Although nominally designed to help defray the cost of expensive drugs for low-income and uninsured patients, they are really designed for brand protection and to keep patients from drifting to lower-priced generic drugs.