Pharma and Social Media

By The Editors

SSI research among 1,453 US adults conducted earlier this year shows that social media is popular among all age groups. In addition, there are “avid” social media users who spend more than 5+ hours a week social networking.  The avids are more likely to share their opinions about a brand and post comments to a discussion. They have the loudest voice so they can be important in spreading the word about a product.

The healthcare communications landscape is changing. Social media users search the internet for information about healthcare and specific medical conditions to better understand their conditions and options for treatment. The model of companies using one-way communication reaching out to patients is evolving. Social media offers the opportunity for two-way communications. There are challenges for pharmaceutical manufacturers, and a recent change in the way Facebook treats them could have implications for how drug manufacturers integrate social media with traditional media.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers were recently told by Facebook that they had to start allowing people to comment on their pages. Previously, Facebook had accommodated Pharma companies by assuring them their pages would be closed to public comment. Some reacted to the change by removing their Facebook pages. The Fair Balance requirement of the Food and Drug Administration means that drug makers can share benefits but also have to list risks and side effects of their products. That is why you see ads in magazines that are several pages long associated with drug advertisements.

It is a lot harder to communicate the full risks, benefits, and appropriate uses of a medicine in a social media channel like Facebook or Twitter. Drug companies are understandably cautious.  While it has held hearings on the topic the FDA has not yet issued official guidance on how these companies should use social media. One area of concern is how to police social media postings for inaccurate information about prescription drugs. What is the liability of a drug company if someone posts a comment that their drug provides a benefit in area X, which is not something the drug is approved to do?

Pharma companies benefit from two-way communication with their users when they conduct research among users and potential users of their products. They have the added challenge of navigating the changing communications landscape and social media. This is especially important as a number of very popular blockbuster drugs such as Lipitor, Plavix, and Singulair will lose patent protection between now and the end of 2012. This suggests growing need for market research around alternatives and the right media mix and messages that will keep users loyal to the brand. SSI’s healthcare capabilities can help keep all of the constituents involved: patients, caregivers, Physicians and  pharma companies stay connected through research with valuable two-way communication.

What online healthcare resources do you rely on and why?