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Pharmaceuticals – Balancing Online Presence and Compliance

PharmaTweets: How to balance online presence and compliance

More people are taking their health into their own hands, and they are doing it through the power of the web. Whether to diagnose some odd symptom, skim reviews about a new drug, or investigate the implications of healthcare reform, an increasing number of adults are getting at least some health information via the Internet — a study put the number at 90% of online Americans — and the majority of those people are members of Facebook, Twitter, or both.

Drug companies eyeing social media

Given these facts, it’s no wonder that drug companies have been eyeing social media as a potentially powerful asset, but the pharmaceutical industry has been slower than others to join the online conversation. This is primarily because of concerns over FDA regulations about disclosure and fair balance. In traditional marketing, FDA requirements are met by tacking disclaimers onto the end of print ads and television commercials.  Compliance is trickier when dealing with a 140-character limit, as on Twitter.

In 2009, as drug companies began to attempt more online marketing, they requested that the FDA re-consider its standards for web communications, and a public hearing was held as the FDA acknowledged that emerging technologies may require the agency to provide additional guidance in that arena.

At the time, industry experts expressed concern that the infamous rule development process could never keep pace with online innovation, and although the agency announced the promotion of prescription drug products using social media tools as part of their Guidance Agenda, pharma companies are still waiting for concrete rules as they attempt to balance compliance with online communications.

As these issues continue to develop, there are a few basic tenets that drug companies can bear in mind while building a relatable web presence.

Be aware of regulations and conventions.

It’s important to keep abreast of the current state of the discussion and the unspoken guidelines of the twitter-verse in order to tweet effectively, writes Dan Bebear, pharma industry consultant, in his helpful article on the subject.  One resource for staying educated is Jonathan Richman’s Pharma Social Media Wiki, which aggregates all social media content created by the healthcare industry — it’s a lot of information, but that’s the whole point. Also useful is Ignite Health’s Twitter account #FDASM, comprising everything about the FDA, Internet, and Social Media. Here, drug companies can stay on top of the latest announcements, trends, and compliance issues for their industry.

Value engagement over advertisement.

Online marketing and sales still carry considerable compliance risks — so pharma companies can instead focus on creating a personable and engaging web presence, building trust and brand recognition in consumers. Tweeting about a variety of topics and including plenty of human interest, companies can reach out to the public without breaking regulations. Johnson and Johnson twitter feed sets the standard in this arena.

Implement a records retention policy.

Organizations are held increasingly liable for online content — down to every post and tweet. Keeping a non-refutable record of what was said, and when, is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s claim-skeptical environment. In case of FDA crackdown or any other legal issue, it’s essential that drug companies protect themselves with a solid web archiving policy. That’s the only way to ensure complete, legally-acceptable backup of the ever-changing corporate web presence.

For more information on how pharmaceutical’s can get full value of Twitter and other social media platforms, without the risk, check out the social media archiving page.

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