Is the audience listening? FDA wants to spy on social media to find out

Do people listen to the FDA? The agency wants to know--and it's planning to track online chatter to find out. As Regulatory Focus reports, the agency is looking for vendors that could monitor social media and regular old mass media to find out whether its communiqués are finding an audience, and whether that audience is paying attention.

The agency has already hired a social-media monitoring and strategy company--run by one of President Obama's former online campaign geeks--to see whether its social-media efforts are gaining any traction. That contract also included some social-media eavesdropping, "to see what the public is discussing about our work."

That contract drew fire last fall in the middle of the whole sequestration-and-budget brouhaha; some lawmakers derided it as a pathetic and pricey attempt to gauge the agency's popularity. PhRMA scoffed, saying the FDA should stop focusing on its own social-media work and start focusing on that long-delayed social-media guidance for the pharma industry.

The latest potential contract still has some of that "what are they saying about us" flavor. But it's more specific--and perhaps less likely to generate controversy because of that. This time around, the FDA is trying to figure out whether the right people are getting public communications--safety messages, new drug approvals, warnings--from the agency, and whether those people are paying attention.

And it's looking for ideas on how to make more people listen. For instance, the FDA would like to track down "influencers," a.k.a. people who capture public attention and trust, and perhaps use them to get agency messages out to its target audiences.

This information-gathering notice is just the first step toward a possible deal. As RF notes, responses are due on Wednesday, and the FDA will then decide whether to proceed. 

- read the Regulatory Focus piece

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