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Why Pharmaceutical Companies are Suddenly Allergic to Facebook

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Why Pharmaceutical Companies are Suddenly Allergic to Facebook
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One of the primary reasons for a company to be on social media is to build relationships and engage customers in a dialogue. So why are a lot of big-time pharmaceutical companies about to walk away from their Facebook pages?

It seems that up to this point, Facebook gave pharma companies the ability to “turn off” commenting on their pages, a privilege they didn’t grant to other industries. This suited the risk-adverse pharma folks just fine as it gave them the ability to “block” comments they didn’t like.

But all that came to an end on Monday, August 15. You see, a few months ago Facebook sent an e-mail notifying all pharma page administrators that the social media site was changing the rules and that “pages that currently have commenting disabled will no longer have this entitlement after August 15th.”

As reported on ClickZ, this poses a major problem:

Pharma marketers are required to report adverse effects of their drugs, so if someone posts a comment about an adverse effect on a Facebook page, the company is responsible to report that to the Food and Drug Administration. Also, when they become aware of online conversations including incorrect or off-label information about their drugs and products, they need to notify the FDA.

Can anyone say big can of worms? It also means the pharma companies can no longer prevent those who have had adverse side effects from a drug from posting their comments online for all to see.

As pointed out in the Pharma Marketing Blog, all it takes is one disgruntled customer to cause havoc. The European drug company Sanofi-aventis chose to shut down its Facebook page after a string of negative comments from a cancer survivor who had permanent hair loss after taking the drug Taxotere.

So what’s next? As pointed out in the blog Pharma Exec, companies now have three choices:

  1. Go dark and wait for the FDA to issue guidelines on how to report potential adverse events they may discover on their Facebook pages.
  2. Go dark temporarily and build the infrastructure to cope with the real time flow of consumer commentary.
  3. Continue on with Facebook, backed by the staff to monitor Facebook and other social networking sites.

A few major drug makers have already chosen options one and two. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have decided to remove their Facebook pages as a consequence of the policy change. Other companies said they will monitor their pages more closely now that the changes have taken effect.

But my thinking is, as more and more consumers lean on the Web as their primary source for information, you’ve got to have the social media bases covered, including Facebook. After all, if someone has something bad to say about your product, if it doesn’t come out on Facebook, it’s bound to appear somewhere else. And it’s better to be in a venue where the playing field is level and you at least have the chance to respond.

What do you think?

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