A huge feature of social media marketing has been two-way messaging. Marketers promote their products and services to potential users and these users are encouraged to share their opinions and experiences. But for one industry, pharmaceuticals, social media marketing has been problematic from a regulatory standpoint. All that may be about to change.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been slow to develop clear regulations on social media marketing for pharmaceutical companies. But general guidelines indicate that marketers must refrain from promoting off-label uses for prescription medications. When users post comments about a product to a social media site sponsored by a pharmaceutical company, the concern has been that the regulatory agency would interpret this activity as falling on the wrong side of the law. Many pharmaceutical companies, mindful of the hefty fines that are levied on their industry regularly as a result of what the FDA considers false advertising, have been hesitant to invest huge resources in social media.

This summer, Google released a Safe Watch function for YouTube which allows “channel owners with ten or more videos to control what videos show up on watch pages.” As a result, several pharma companies are working with Google to expand their content on YouTube. And industry watchers  believe Google is courting the pharma industry by giving companies the flexibility to work within regulatory framework. But not every social media platform provider is so willing to work with marketers. For example, Facebook plans to require all companies to allow comments to be posted to their pages  beginning in August. Pharma marketing executives are struggling to find a way to maintain their Facebook presence under these rules.

Social media marketing for the pharma industry is still in its infancy. Some platform providers like Google clearly see the revenue benefits that come from working with pharma companies.  If these companies move a significant portion of their ad budgets to this channel, service providers will likely be looking for ways to grab additional revenue and  may be more willing to tweak their philosophy and business models.

[Source: Kaye, Kate. Google Hand Holding. Clickz.com. 12 Jul. 2011. Web. 26 Jul. 2011]