Drug Makers Tweeting About Their Tweatments?

From the Waggener Edstrom Worldwide webinar on the pharmaceutical industry’s hopes for, and fears about, tapping into social media in Washington, D.C.

The pharmaceutical industry, like many other sectors seeking a way to stay viable in a world where customers are becoming ever more elusive (um, like maybe journalism?), is dipping its toes into the brave new world of social media.  At a small meeting room at the Madison Hotel today, a group of attendees heavy on public relations and drug company employees brainstormed about the possibilities of using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to get the word out about their products, or maybe about a particular condition, and connect with the end users: physicians and patients.

Tweety bird courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user aussiegall.

Tweety bird courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user aussiegall.

There’s a big catch for drug makers, however.  The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t really determined where these communications fit into its regulatory scheme.  Mark Gaydos, a senior director of regulatory affairs at Sanofi-Aventis, said he is heading a somewhat informal task force of representatives from 5 drug makers seeking to create voluntary guidelines on the industry’s use of social media.  The companies have already been talking with the FDA’s division of drug marketing, advertising and communications about their efforts, Mr. Gaydos said.

“We’re trying to influence the environment, shape the policy in some way because the guidelines aren’t out there and it’s really preventing a lot of companies from participating, so we’re hoping we can move that along,” he said. Drug makers know their customers — patients and physicians — are increasingly on-line, and that’s where they need to be, too, said Mr. Gaydos, who expressed his own opinions, not those of Sanofi-Aventis.

“The traditional massive sales force approach is really not doing the job anymore,” he said.

But sending out “Viva Viagra” tweets every hour on a Friday afternoon or friending a Parkinson’s disease patient group on Facebook present perils as well.  Drug makers don’t want to be seen as predatory. 

“A company has to tread lightly because they don’t want to be perceived as using social media venue as just another way to promote,” Mr. Gaydos said. “People don’t want to go and be part of an on-line discussion and feel that they are basically just tools of the industry’s efforts to promote the product.”

Some drug makers have already begun Tweeting, including Astra-Zeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Novartis,  and Vertex.  Only Boehringer seems to be fairly active; even so, it’s Tweeted only 33 times since November.

Companies seem to be using the technology to follow, not be followed, said Jenny Moede, who advises drug companies on digital media for Weggener Edstrom.

With profits down, blockbusters like Lipitor coming off patent in just a few years, and a barren product pipeline, it would be surprising to see drug makers passively follow for too much longer.

— Alicia Ault

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Filed under Practice Trends

3 responses to “Drug Makers Tweeting About Their Tweatments?

  1. Kerri Wachter

    I hadn’t really considered that there might be policy implications of big pharma using social media. That’s a great point. FYI: I’m knwachter on Twitter.

  2. the critical point here are motives. If the drug companies approach new media / social media with a traditional marketing mindset (“predatory”) then this is the beginning of the end of their online venture into social media.

    The current generation of people online, populating social networks have a keen sense for others motives. Charlatans make for fodder on most networks. Insincerity is easily discerned by these wise crowds. So again I say, it’s motivations above all else for the drug companies… that is if they want to get any value out of participating in this latest wave of the web.

  3. Pingback: EMDC » Drug Makers Tweeting About Their Tweatments?

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