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Euro'vision blog

A look at the key issues for pharma across Europe

Open dialogue and the industry – an unpalatable reality

With the closing of Janssen’s Psoriasis 360 Facebook page – Max explains why he believes that the social interaction websites are unsuited to prescription-only products. Add your comment, to say what you think.

The recent closure of the Janssen Psoriasis 360 Facebook page has provoked a raft of comment and perhaps it seems excessive to provide further comment on an already well-aired topic. Except that, probably the one thing I am asked the most about when I visit clients and other industry figures, is what is the future of social media for the industry and how can we harness its undoubted power?

First a confession – I love social media. It's an amazing way to connect with a vast number of people quickly and in some cases in an inexpensive way. It harnesses the wisdom of crowds and gives ideas a life beyond what was possible in the past. For all of these reasons we can't ignore it and we can't turn our backs on it as an industry… or can we?

For me the fundamental issue about social media for the pharmaceutical industry is suitability. Leaving aside pure passive use of social sites as a listening post to track trends and opinion, which is a no-brainer; is this a medium that will ever be suitable for the industry?  In open, un-moderated or post-moderated sites (it is the change in August for Facebook that has precipitated the closure of many pharma pages) I think the answer as the current regulations stand is “no”.

Its not a matter of whether the Industry is prepared to really embrace the social side of these sites (that pharma appreciates and values the social media where 100s of millions of potential customers are online and can be engaged for a low cost is not in dispute), but more a matter of if they are allowed to or should do so?

Reading about the closure of the Jansen page, the big issue that prompted the closure was not abusive or ill-informed comments but simply the number of posts that mentioned prescription-only products by name. Given current EU regulations about promotion of prescription-only products to the public, no pharmaceutical company can afford to be associated or sponsor a page that breaches these rules.

David Keown, Janssen's senior communications manager's phrasing: “ …we have been forced to cut short online discussions that could take place freely in a forum run by a patient organisation” to my mind completely sums up the dilemma of the industry when setting up such pages. And I think their statement was a very honest conclusion on the subject. 

This is not a situation that is likely to change any time in the future. So while companies can and do continue to use other social media channels, whose inclusion and commenting policies are less regulated than Facebook, the reality is that the true power of social interaction websites – a discussion that allows all reasonable comments to be heard, commented on and expanded upon, can never be something the pharmaceutical industry can harness.

I think facing up to this reality – that true social media can never be suitable for prescription-only products – and looking for other ways to engage online, while recognising the limitations, is a more productive approach than continuing to look for solutions to the unsolvable. An opinion, which I am sure, will not be popular with all…

Article by
Max Jackson

Max Jackson is CEO, EMEA & APAC, Sudler & Hennessey and former chair EACA Healthcare Communications Council

2nd April 2012

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