Despite the many advantages of using social media, the pharmaceutical industry has been a laggard in embracing it. The primary reason for this has been the lack of FDA guidance on the use of this medium. In a survey of health and pharma executives, 78% cited regulatory concerns as a leading challenge in social media adoption, while 67% cited compliance issues. For 41% of the participants, Adverse Event (AE) reporting was the main issue.
The draft guidance issued by Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP)on December 2011 does throw some light on FDA’s stand on social media and how manufacturers should respond to requests for off-label information in public online forums or “emerging electronic media”. According to this guidance, the company’s response to unsolicited requests is optional. If the company does choose to respond, it has to be a private, one-on-one communication.
To understand the impact of Adverse Event related communication, Wipro conducted a social monitoring study. After ‘listening’ to online posts related to thirteen brands (nine prescription drugs and four medical devices) on various forums like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit for 7 days, it was found that only 3% of all posts referred to an adverse reaction while only 0.38% messages actually qualified for adverse event reporting. This means that in the course of its social engagement, a Life Sciences company may pick up an occasional mention of AE. However, an AE reporting instance per OPDP criteria would be encountered very rarely. Separately, a study has shown that out of FDA’s 173 warning letters issued from 2008 to 2012, only one is directly tied to social media. These studies and the guidance substantiate that the ‘social’ fears of the pharmaceutical industry are somewhat exaggerated and it’s time to look beyond.
Life Sciences companies are recognizing the benefits of this platform and some of them have taken tentative steps towards social engagement. McNeil Pediatrics opened a Facebook page for its ADHD Moms initiative as early as 2009. Sanofi has integrated its twitter account with online communities. Pharma companies are also actively using Pinterest boards and Youtube videos. Through social media, Life Sciences companies can get to know patients’ doubts and concerns, their experiences, and their perception about competitors’ products. It also allows them to engage with caregivers and provide accurate and complete information about their products.
However, to leverage the power of ‘social’, Life Sciences organizations need professionals who not only understand the social space and the life sciences domain, but also have the expertise to integrate it with their marketing strategy. Business processes need to be configured to establish proper communication channels and ensure compliance. LifeSciences companies also need to establish an integrated marketing strategy with a digital marketing platform that helps aggregate data from disparate sources, reporting across business units and geographies in a single view, run advanced analytics to provide actionable insights that refine marketing campaigns.
What are your views on the social strategies that life sciences companies should adopt? Have you come across an interesting example of social engagement from a life sciences company? Do share your thoughts here.