Thursday 26 April 2018

Facebook — By Prescription Only

Originally posted on

From the Washington Post this week, Facebook reversed a policy that formerly exempted all pharmaceutical company pages from open “walls” – the place on Facebook where anyone who is a member can post a comment. This has directly resulted in several companies dropping out of the social networking site altogether. Corporate pages that focus on pharmaceutical companies themselves and those that focus on disease or patient-specific communities are no longer exempted and are now open to comments. Pages that are focused on a specific prescription product continue to have the option to be closed to comments.

The risks seem to outweigh the benefits for those companies who see the potential that open walls may lead to the reporting of bad side effects, promotion of off-label drug usage or the posting of inappropriate statements any of which may ultimately raise the ire of government regulators.

But, is this throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Apparently, even though Facebook is fast approaching 8 years old, the perception by many conservative companies remains that social networking is like the Wild West where rules are scant and anything goes. While it is in fact true that open, authentic communications dominate this space, there are still rules and control mechanisms in place which not only make it easy, but in fact quite “safe” to effectively engage with your target audiences. A couple of rules of thumb:

Have an engaged community manager. This is what Facebook and other social networking sites are about – engagement and participating in the conversation with your stakeholders. Ensure your team embraces this opportunity and treats the social networking tools as a chance to join the conversation. If that has not been agreed to or is not well understood, it is probably best to not participate until it is.

Have a community engagement policy or guidelines from the outset to ensure the community knows what the rules of engagement are on your site and what they are agreeing to by participating. Let your community members know that their comments are being moderated and ensure your policy is clearly available on a tab for everyone to see. Once this has been implemented, it becomes easier for your community manager and the community itself to decide when to hit the delete button. Not surprisingly, many Facebook communities focused in the health and pharmaceutical space have few issues because they manage the rules of engagement proactively.

Finally, be clear in who you want to target. While trolls will always exist on the Internet, those people who surf from place to place criticizing, attacking and generally not focusing on the stated purpose of the community, there are always fans who are truly engaged and appreciate the opportunity to be in a relationship with other like minded people. Like bullies in the schoolyard, trolls should not rule the online universe. The fact is pharmaceutical companies play a hugely valuable role in being another voice providing information about their products. They can be incredibly rich resources for people seeking health information – still one of the top 3 reasons people go online.

In my opinion, I’d like to see more pharmaceutical companies participating in social networking. I know from personal experience that patient community engagement is invaluable particularly at 3 o’clock in the morning and you can’t sleep for worry. Being a part of the conversation is important. And while you cannot ever control what someone else is going to say, you can be available to inform, defend if necessary and to demonstrate confidence and transparency that, just like anyone, you have a voice and it is worth being heard.


Image credit: eston

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