Social Media

Social Media Dulling Pharma's Marketing Knife

I was planning to write a long article about Pharma (Pharmaceuticals) and what their deal is with social media however instead I decided to just jot down things as they come since there is ever so much to talk about.
First off, many of us are already aware of the fact that pharma is notorious for their focus on television ads and of course massive salesforce out there visiting doctors to spread marketing messages (or just drop off samples…ahem). However, I haven’t seen enough out there talking about the fact that Pharma is not only afraid of the FDA but is also afraid of the public truly knowing what is going on with their medications.
My main point here is that one of the reasons Pharma doesn’t want to engage social media or step outside of their television comfort box is because they have extremely focused marketing messages and opening up the gates to actually let consumers talk would obliterate their ability to control the messaging as they wish. Unfortunately, [people](http://www.pharmamarketingblog.com/) are already talking about Pharma in [blogs](http://www.healthcarevox.com/) and forums and as we all know the social spaces can’t be controlled. The bottom line is that nowadays companies can’t position their products against competitors like they would want. Instead, consumers are telling the truth and chiming in all over the place. For pharma, this means that they can’t just pick a single result out of a clinical trial and tout that data as a major advantage against competing medications so easily. The consumers will let the world know if there is truly a reduction in that nasty side effect or greater efficacy with the new formulation. This will not only effect the salesforce’s ability to communicate that razor sharp message, but will also even up the playing ground for those who don’t necessarily have the marketing prowess that some of the bigger companies do. Social media is in effect, compromising pharma’s control over their meds and desigining fancy clinical trials to prove something they need to prove (whether or not it’s actually true) will no longer have the impact it used to. Adding this one element to the entire healthcare debacle (greedy pharma, government healthcare, scrutiny on DTC advertising) that is going on today, what does everybody think about the longer term impact on the entire pharma industry?
In my opinion, at least near-term, it won’t be long before pharma realizes that they aren’t in control anymore and that instead of engaging social media they will then have to backtrack and jump in at the final 2 minutes of the ballgame with the hopes to take possession of the ball.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media Dulling Pharma's Marketing Knife

  1. Its fashionable to portray pharma companies as evil and all powerful but the truth is much less glamorous.
    Pharma Co’s aren’t afraid of social media, the reality is they LEGALLY could never engage in social media marketing. The reason pharma marketing messages are so tightly controlled has nothing to do with their “fear of the truth” getting out– the true is the FDA mandates strict limits on all marketing messages. If a pharma company used a marketing message that is not directly lifted from their product insert they open themselves up to HUGE liabilities and criminal investigations.

  2. I have to agree with Nate. I’ve spoken with Big-Pharma companies and they simply cannot engage with the legal restrictions they have. Can you imagine if they had a blog or left comments, they would be ran thru legal so many times, they would be worthless.

  3. Nate,
    Actually, I completely disagree but appreciate the dissention. What you are talking about Nate is “off-label” discussion and this does indeed get them into trouble. If somebody from pharma touted an off-label indication or use then there’s a big problem because the FDA never approved that indication. Here’s the grey area that is uncharted: What about consumers posting off label usage or side effects that are not on the package insert? So far, there has been discussion about that on some of the other blogs out there and it is indeed still uncharted and thats part of the problem. Regarding the tight marketing messages, I agree that they are stuck with the FDA’s regulations but who says everything has to be about the drug?
    Andy,
    Social media is more than just blogging. Furthermore, they don’t have to blog about meds, they can blog about anything including their mission, focus, what they think about the healthcare debate, or just about life in general. Blogging about their drugs might be rather boring eh? However, given the problems all of them are having with their image it might behoove them to actually engage in some form and fix that.

  4. As someone who analyzes Pharma/biotech messages for investors, I’ve thought a lot about this. They are very controlled about what they can advertise (and I doubt that the FDA would see social media as anything more than an advertisement). As for the patients screwing up their message, I think there’s a lot to that. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a vocal minority who talks about problems they are having with drugs (how interesting is it to blog about how this new drug is made your pain go away?). The great thing about double blind clinical trials is that they prove (within the statistical likelyhood) that a drug works (or doesn’t). Social media isn’t science.

  5. One major problem that is holding Pharma back even if they were ok with the lose of some control is patients reporting adverse events. This means if they had a forum that they owned, and someone posted a side effect, they would legally be responsible. It is not that simple but they are very afraid of this and it has definitely stalled their entrance into any kind of social media.

  6. David, Brian, Andy and Nate all have valid points. I’ve consulted in the pharma/biotech space and have had many long discussions with clients regarding the move into social media. It comes down to legal exposure and the likelihood of a poorly informed community making a decision based on anecdotal evidence.
    Every communication that a pharma company generates must go through many – MANY – rounds of legal review. You’d be amazed at the amount of editing done to seemingly harmless words and phrases. Anything a pharma company attaches its name to creates an aura of authority. So, to David’s point, if a pharma company owned a social network, they would be legally responsible for any views expressed therein, whether or not the views were accurate.
    While it’s unfortunate that Pharma can’t fully participate in the social media space, it’s helpful to remember that despite the prevalence of direct-to-consumer advertising, patients don’t get to call the shots on prescription drugs. That’s still the realm of the physician, despite all of the competitive claims and free pens. Patients can discuss it among themselves, but I’ll leave it to the scientists, statisticians and clinicians to figure out the efficacy of a drug.

  7. This is one of the best discussions I’ve seen on the subject and I think all points are valid.
    How about this for an idea/experiment –
    Pharma company openly sets up a blog where people can come and ask questions / put viewpoints forward. Can be about products, can be about company policy, whatever.
    Along with other community members (patient organisation representatives, doctors, etc) the company answers questions and puts forward policy decisions as per their licence and publicly available information. Doesn’t try to sell, just puts rational viewpoint & data forward and explains why can’t answer some questions (like off-label stuff; other community members could jump on those).
    I assume you’d need some dispensation from the FDA and/or a waiver that participants would need to accept as they enter site. You’d also need a full-time lawyer on it and some brass balls from management.
    No doubt there would be plenty of uncomfortable times – would there be an upside worth it?