5 great social media case studies in pharma

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Companies that go looking for reasons not to monitor and engage with social media sometimes wind up with what sound more like excuses: rigid cultures, time constraints, organizational siloes, and so forth. But one common objection that is harder to overcome is fairly specific to the healthcare and pharmaceutical space: an uncertain regulatory landscape.  

Despite a lack of direction from regulators, some firms have experimented with social marketing projects online, says Christiane Truelove, editor in chief of R&D Directions and Med Ad News, who covers what companies are doing with healthcare and pharmaceutical promotion in social media. With some tips from Truelove, I’ve been looking at these case studies and present for you 5 of the best I’ve found from the past couple of years.

  1. Johnson & Johnson Acuvue’s Acuminder Facebook app. Everybody has that absentminded friend who leaves their contact lenses in for way too long. The Acuminder app reminds you when it’s time to change your contacts. It’s available as an email service outside of Facebook as well. Acuvue’s Facebook page also provides a pretty good example of a brand presence on Facebook that mixes conversation with promotion effectively.
  2. GlaxoSmithKline’s myAlli is an oft-cited case study in a company harnessing online communities for market research or insights. We’ve covered it here before. Patients using the Alli weight loss drug share their stories with GSK and each other, recording their successes and difficulties with weight loss.
  3. Just goes to show that there’s no single right way to use Facebook: McNeil Pediatrics serves up ADHD Moms, a Facebook page with more than 9,500 fans. Not a lot of discussion happens on the Wall of this page, but this effort to share useful information with thousands of mothers of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder serves as a useful resource in an accessible place.
  4. Pharma company AstraZeneca maintains a YouTube channel that offers a valuable stream of news about the company’s initiatives such as Hope Lodge Centers, which offer free temporary housing facilities near major cancer treatment centers.  
  5. Three years ago, Novartis launched a YouTube contest called FluFlix, in which contestants promoted the health benefits of flu vaccines.  The introductory video attracted 800,000 views.

You may notice I’ve gone back several years for some of these examples. More recently, pharma companies have been cautious in social media, awaiting direction from regulators. Leaders in pharmaceutical marketing and advertising discussed some of the regulatory hurdles in a panel discussion at New York University last week.

“There aren’t any firm guidelines from the FDA,” Truelove says. “There are companies that would rather be cautious or safe than be very visible in a social media context and have the FDA come after them later.”

As we’ve discussed here before, Traditionally, pharma companies are required to adhere to FDA guidelines in the realm of “adverse event reporting”. In other words,  if they discover a consumer complaining about the side effects of a drug, even if those side effects are well known to be associated with that drug, they must report the complaint to the FDA.

But those guidelines only require that events be reported if the person making the complaint is identifiable; a username like Mustang468724 doesn’t meet that requirement. “Should a company respond to something like that? The general consensus is that they shouldn’t really have to,” Truelove says.

A study by The Nielsen Company found that less than 1 percent of reports of drug side effects found on Yahoo Health boards were required to be reported to the FDA [white paper download].

What do you think? Are pharma companies being too cautious? Or are they better off waiting for direction?

Also be sure to check out Cision Navigator’s new list of the top 10 pharmaceutical magazines.

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