Facebook: No more 'no comment' for pharma

The FDA may be dragging its feet on social-media guidelines for drugmakers, but that doesn't mean social media is lagging, too. While pharma regulators tread water, more and more patients are going online for information on drugs and medical conditions. And while drugmakers may try to reach those patients while toeing a somewhat blurry FDA line, some of those compliance efforts won't fly in the brave new world of social networking.

Take Facebook. Pharma marketers have moved onto the social networking site, but fearing a regulatory backlash, many companies have nixed Facebook users' ability to leave comments on their pages. All pharma companies needed to do was submit a request to a Facebook rep, and commenting would be disabled. That not only prevented patients from submitting critical comments, but also obviated the need to counter those comments--which in turn prevented a crackdown from FDA types keen to make sure that company comments conform to marketing rules.

However, Facebook now has decided not to cooperate. New disease-awareness pages won't be able to nix commenting anymore. Facebook wants to be an open forum, the company says, not a place for controlled conversation. "We think these policy changes support consistency for the Facebook Pages product and encourage an authentic dialogue between people and businesses on Facebook," the company wrote in an email (as quoted by ClickZ). 

Individual brand pages will still be able to nix commenting--at least for now. Still, drugmakers may pull away from Facebook because of the change, marketing expert Jim Dayton told ClickZ. Marketers "feel safe" when comments are disabled on disease awareness pages, but the new rules mean, "[t]hey've kind of had that pulled out from under them. It will take a cool head and know-how to make Facebook safe again for some of our pharma clients," Dayton explained.

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