Facebook Tells Pharma Brands They Must Allow Comments

Pharma brand marketers that disable comments on their Facebook pages are in for a change. As predicted, Facebook will no longer allow pharma brands – which are typically highly risk averse when it comes to discussions about their drugs and products in social media environments – to turn off commenting on their pages.

In an effort to keep Facebook a forum for open dialogue, the company will not allow admins of new pages to disable commenting on their pages, according to a company spokesperson. In addition, brands with preexisting pages will be required to allow comments after August 15, according to an email sent by Facebook reps notifying clients of the changes. The email was posted yesterday to the Intouch Soul blog, associated with pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions.

“Previously, pharmaceutical brands could submit a request through their Facebook Sales Representative to disable commenting on their Facebook Page,” notes the email. Facebook confirmed that the email was sent by its reps to page administrators.

“We think these policy changes support consistency for the Facebook Pages product and encourage an authentic dialogue between people and businesses on Facebook,” continued the email. “However, we also understand that these changes may lead you to re-evaluate your strategy and presence on Facebook. We are committed to helping you during this transition.”

Pharma marketers are required to report adverse effects of their drugs, so if someone posts a comment about an adverse effect on a Facebook page, the company is responsible to report that to the Food and Drug Administration. Also, when they become aware of online conversations including incorrect or off-label information about their drugs and products, they need to notify the FDA.

The FDA has yet to determine official guidelines for pharma brands operating in digital media, so pharma marketers tend to be extremely cautious in their decision making about how to use things like online advertising and Facebook pages.

The email also stated that pages dedicated to a prescription drug – for instance, Facebook.com/BrandX as opposed to Facebook.com/LivingWithDiseaseX – may, if approved by Facebook, be allowed to disable commenting.

adhdalliesADHD Allies, a Facebook page from McNeil Pediatrics, is one of many non-drug-specific pages that disables comments. A recent post to the page asked, “Has ADHD affected your relationship with a loved one or significant other? If so, how? Share your answer on this week’s comment wall found on the Perspectives tab.” The Perspectives page features a lengthy disclaimer and states, “All submissions will be reviewed and must be approved by McNeil Pediatrics before being posted.”

Jonathan Richman, group director, strategic planning for marketing agency Possible Worldwide, said pharma marketers could benefit from the change once they become accustomed to it. “In the long run, this will have a net positive effect,” he said. Richman wrote about the Facebook change on his Dose of Digital blog which is focused on digital pharma and healthcare marketing.

“They’ve had this special exception for pharma for a while,” he continued. “It’s against the entire way that Facebook actually works.” He also told ClickZ that by disabling comments, pharma companies “in some ways are probably confusing to people.”

Still, some pharma marketers could be alienated by the move. “Right now with the policy the way it was laid out…. there’s a lot of feeling that Facebook doesn’t quite understand all the needs that pharma has,” said Jim Dayton, senior director emerging media at Intouch Solutions. “They haven’t taken all the different levels and different regulation concerns into account.”

Added Dayton, “Pharma as an industry is still a little bit leery of Facebook and social media as a whole.” He said marketers with comments disabled on pages based on diseases, as opposed to drug brands, “feel safe.” Now, “They’ve kind of had that pulled out from under them.” Dayton suggested that some might just stop doing Facebook marketing as a result of the change.

“It will take a cool head and know-how to make Facebook safe again for some of our pharma clients,” he said.

Despite the fact that pharma marketers could be turned off, Facebook is not likely to experience much of an impact on its bottom line, simply because few pharma brands actually buy advertising on the platform. “Our clients haven’t asked us to spend ad dollars [on Facebook],” said Dayton, so the company “isn’t really concerned about the money pharma will throw at them.”

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