Pharmaceutical Firms to Explore Social Media

When it comes to promoting their products, pharmaceutical firms are required to be more careful than the typical marketer. A traditional print advertisement is often accompanied by an entire page of compressed text that details possible side effects that might result from taking medications. Pharmaceutical companies are currently in negotiations with the FDA about how they might be able to use social media while still meeting legal requirements.  A big area of discussion is how to deliver the text regarding side effects through a format such as Twitter. One possible solution being reviewed is the concept of providing a link from any site to another page that displays the required data about the drug.

In the meantime, pharmaceutical companies are using unique social media approaches to reach out to consumers. In some cases, pharma companies are sponsoring a social media site that is dedicated to a specific disease their product is designed to treat. For example, Gilead sponsors a site called Gilead B Here which addresses the topic of Hepatitis B and targets younger Asian Americans.  Gilead turned off the comments section on its YouTube and Facebook efforts to avoid appearing as though they were promoting their specific drug Viread.   ‘We're launching a disease awareness educational campaign that includes X, Y and Z and our website, live educational events and media outreach,” says the product manager.

Thus, the social media tactics used sound a lot like a traditional website. However, because the sites are attached to the YouTube and Facebook channels, they should be more effective than websites in reaching the targeted consumer groups.

Other manufacturers are launching unbranded sites dedicated to disease information and supporting the sites with printed materials that they distribute in physician offices or with traditional advertising. Some of these manufacturers are allowing the more traditional commenting features on their social media sites but they are careful in their approach to disseminating information.

Pharma companies are also interested in using Twitter. Companies such as Shire, maintain a one-​way communication system. The company sends out tweets but does not accept comments.   Carl Desmond, creative director and partner at Awaken Interactive  says “it's very tempting to want to follow [patients], but obviously the tweets would appear in the feed and that's not something we'd be able to monitor and get approved.”

For now, pharma companies have just begun their foray into social media. As they are able to get additional permissions from the FDA, these marketing efforts should grow and evolve over time.

[Source: Comer, Ben. Patient Marketing Report: Friending Social Media, Medical Marketing and Media, 1.15.2010]
Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.