Why has pharmaceutical PR been slow to embrace social media marketing?

Pharma PR teams have moved slowly with social media promotions, despite the importance of speed. Here’s how to succeed and still stay in line with FDA...

It’s Pharmaceutical PR 101: Speed matters in healthcare communications. The FDA’s drug approvals track record indicates that many meds given the thumbs up are developed by competing companies … for the same condition, reallyclose in time. You’re playing beat the clock against the competition in an attempt to get your awesome multimedia content out the door first and win the race.

So, if it’s all about the need for speed in the current communications landscape, why is pharma so slow to embrace social media promotions?

Marketers know that social media isn’t just a trend: It’s indispensable to brand identity and product promotion. Yet pharma has moved at an agonizingly slow pace – despite studies that show staggering numbers for Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors on social media: 

  • Facebook: 1.1 billion
  • YouTube: 1 billion
  • Twitter: 310 million

And that’s just the Top 3, as of October 1, 2016.

These people represent your potential audience and they are turning to social media for healthcare-related information. You know you’ve got the money: Pharma spent $5.4 billion on advertising in 2015, yet 65% of that went to TV advertising – rather than online, which represents 25% of total media consumption time.

What gives? Yes, we know that the FDA tends to be sluggish, but that excuse falls flat when you realize that some guidance (lower case “g”) is right under your nose.

Not-So-Official FDA Regulation: The FDA has issued Guidance documents (upper case “G”) – not formal rules, but suggestions that come highly recommended. The agency first told us that compliance for online pharmaceutical communications is just like traditional advertising: You must avoid presenting false or misleading information (i.e., balance risks and benefits) if you’re promoting on a site you own or control, through any employee or agent. Further Guidance made it clear that the rules stand for any online or social media channel, including character-limited platforms. We await additional Guidance, but existing publications certainly help.

Most-Definitely-Official FDA Enforcement: You can learn a lot from your competitors and other pharma companies when they get slapped with an FDA Warning Letter. These notifications provide a wealth of details. They give a factual summary, identify specific violations, and tell the recipient exactly how to rectify the problem. One’s mistake can be another’s boon, so take advantage of the great information in FDA Warning Letters (tsk, tsk Kim Kardashian).

No more excuses for avoiding social media in healthcare communications. The resources are there – you just need to use them. You won’t raise eyebrows with legal when you know the rules of the game, both official and unofficial.


Our Regulatory Series continues for pharma PR professionals:

European Medicines Agency: The FDA’s doppelganger AND FDA Guidance: To correct or not correct Third Party Misinformation


eBook: The 7 Pillars of Pharmaceutical Communications Wisdom

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