This just in… we’re still waiting for guidance from the FDA on social media. Actually, we AREN’T waiting. We can’t afford to wait. The fact is, the social media train has left the station, and we at Edelman have been actively working with our clients in the regulated space to help them navigate the medium without official guidance.
To add more fuel to the fire, WEGO Health has updated their original survey of their Health Activists (PDF) – presented at the November 2009 open hearing the FDA held – and their data supports the need for company participation and involvement online more than ever.
Similar to the recent Pew report on “The Social Life of Health Information, 2011,” when taking a look at both WEGO surveys you can see how the landscape has evolved since 2009 as well as trends and opinions that are emerging within the health space.
For those of you unfamiliar with WEGO, WEGO Health is a social media company with a mission of empowering the top 10% of online health social media contributors to connect with each other and with health care companies. They call these passionate people Health Activists, and you can find them as community leaders, bloggers, on Facebook, on Twitter, and leading online forums. On average, they create content for an audience of 15,000+ every month. WEGO Health funds their supportive community for these Health Activists through transparent advertising and sponsorships from health companies.
Bring in the Experts
A strong majority of Health Activists continue to seek the expertise that companies can bring to social media conversations. Health Activists overwhelmingly prefer a commitment to objectivity, but when it comes to products and services, they know the manufacturers are the experts. One WEGO Health Activist states it best by saying, “I kind of see (company participation) as a little biased, but I do like it when you have a forum going on – and actual drug facts, what it’s used for, what the side effects are – when a company brings that into the picture, that’s excellent…” Health Activists clearly want companies to become involved in social media with only 3% of Activists not wanting any company involvement in the social space.
It’s a Start
When asked if health care companies are using social media, more Health Activists replied “yes” this year compared to 2009 – 69% and 58%, respectively. Health Activists are seeing growth in company participation mostly from increased use of Facebook and Twitter, with early signs of growth in QA sites and photo sharing. But they also acknowledge that companies are over-regulating themselves – to the point where many are simply not getting involved – in the absence of FDA guidance.
In 2008, the FDA sent letters to 14 pharmaceutical companies regarding their branded search engine advertisements, changing the assumption held until then about linking to important safety information. In the letters, the FDA asserted that the violating ads did not accurately link a branded drug’s efficacy claims with its risk information. The Health Activists at WEGO disagree – a clear majority agree that the best way for companies to make required information available is having it one click away.
Health Activists need companies’ help fighting misinformation. As evident in both the 2009 and 2011 surveys, they realize that companies, as the only regulated players, can provide factual, much needed information on their products and help to clear up many of the misconceptions present in social media. Health Activists also expect that companies will be vigilant brand stewards and monitor conversations across the Internet to counter inaccurate information about their products, although they recognize the inherent challenges – more than half (56%) of the individuals surveyed agree that companies cannot reasonably keep up with monitoring all mentions of their content. Here, the Health Activists join companies in waiting (and hoping) for the FDA to provide guidance to define “best effort” for monitoring.
Image credit: WEGO Health
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