Glen Gilmore
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Pharma Social Business

6 Things Pharma Can Do While Waiting For FDA Social Media Guidelines
 


Although the FDA has its own Facebook page, Twitter account (actually, it maintains, at last count, nine Twitter accounts), a blog, a YouTube account, and Flickr account, it has once again disappointed the pharmaceutical industry by announcing another study that will further delay desperately-desired social media guidelines for the pharmaceutical industry. While many pharmaceuticals have already waded deeply into to the waters of social media, just as many are concerned about the implications of not having clear FDA guidance.

What can be done by pharmaceuticals as they await FDA social media guidelines?

1. Strengthen Your Social Media Team

Every pharmaceutical company needs to have an in-house social media marketing team, a group of individuals who are passionate about the digital and social space. In addition to marketing leaders, the team should include representatives from human relations, customer relations, IT, and legal. They should focus on further educating themselves in new media, its techniques, strategies, and tools, through ongoing training and conference participation. They should be setting goals, establishing policies, and eventually providing the in-house training that will help the larger organization understand the integration of digital and social marketing.

2. Know the Social Media Guidelines that Do Exist
Alhough pharma always thinks of the FDA when it considers social media guidelines, companies are also well advised to understand that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) is charged by Congress with stopping “unfair and deceptive acts or practices.” The FTC wasted little time in updating, in 2009, its revised Guidelines Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, found in 16 C.F.R. Part 255, to address marketing within social networks. Since revising its Guidelines, the Commission has been vigilant in pursuing perceived violations of the updated rules. Nonetheless, many marketers remain oblivious to the guidelines, risking sanctions that can cause serious damage to their brands.
In announcing the guidelines, the FTC offered a detailed summary of the provisions relating to social media:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service. Likewise, if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization. And a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims.

3. Review and Update Your
Social Media Guidelines

Many companies, in the rush to restrict employee social media participation, adopted social media policies that prohibit virtually any discussion of workplace matters online. Such policies may run afoul of the National Relations Labor Board (NLRB), which has initiated actions against companies where their social media policies were deemed to be too restrictive of employee conversations relevant to workplace conditions. The NLRB objection to such restrictive social media policies transcends the issue of whether a workplace is unionized or not: the dispositive question is whether the social media policy prohibits workers from discussing their "terms and conditions of employment."

With over 640 million Facebook accounts, 300 million Twitter accounts, 100 million LinkedIn accounts, and over 7.4 million people on Foursquare, your employees need clear guidelines. Social media policies should be crafted to give real guidance to employees, without interfering with an employee's protected right of discussing working conditions.
    4. Develop A Social Media Decision Tree

Where companies are engaging in social media, employees need clear guidance and a streamlined process on how to engage in social media. The U.S. Air Force wrestled with this issue and created a decision tree, which Pfizer Canada modified for its employees. It’s a model every company should strive to perfect.

5. Make Sure Every Employee Understands
“Adverse Events” Responsibilities

Pharma’s biggest fear. With employees listening on social media everyday, throughout the day, policies must be updated to ensure that all employees have a clear understanding of what they are to do should they become aware of such an event.

  1. Listen, Respond, Share and Community Build
A. Use Social Media to Educate and Share Wellness Tips


B. Use Social Media to Let Brand Advocates Share Their Stories


C. Use Social Media to Share the Social Good You're Doing



For more suggestions, please join me on Twitter at @HealthcareSMM
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