May 24th, 2011

Facebook To Pharma: Allow Comments On Pages


While the FDA continues to ponder rules for social media, Facebook is now changing its own rules and will no longer allow drugmakers to disable comments posted on newly created pages. And existing pages will no longer be able to do so as of August 15, according to InTouch Solutions.

The move reportedly came by way of email last week: “As you know, Facebook Pages are a free product for organizations, public figures, businesses, and brands to express themselves and have an authentic, engaging, two-way dialog with people on Facebook…We think these policy changes support consistency for the Facebook Pages product and encourage an authentic dialogue between people and businesses on Facebook.”

The social media gorilla goes on to acknowledge the changes may cause pharma to “reevaluate” its “strategy and presence on Facebook.” Perhaps with a nod toward that concern, the Facebook overseers created an exception: “Subject to Facebook’s approval, branded pages solely dedicated to a prescription drug may (continue to) have commenting functionality removed.” Note: OTC is not mentioned.

For those unaware, Facebook has granted requests from drugmakers for so-called whitelisting - the web site would disable functions that allows viewers to comment on Facebook Wall posts, photos and videos. Now, though, Facebook seems to be saying that whitelisting runs counter to its mission and there is no reason for pharma to remain a special case.

Of course, this represents a significant change for drugmakers, which are loathe to allow comments or videos to appear on their sites wily-nily over legal and regulatory concerns. You know, someone carps about a side effect or an off-label use, and this causes a chain reaction requiring a report to the FDA. In-house lawyers do not like this prospect, although such fears also keep some gainfully employed.

What might a marketer do? A drugmaker may opt for an application that, essentially, creates an alternate Facebook Wall and allows comments on posts. As InTouch Solutions points out, instead of instantly adding a comment, the app puts the post in a queue for review by an administrator. An email is then sent to the administrator for approval. Whether this makes sense will vary across the board, because disabling a Wall removes spontaneity and prevents viewing from issuing a ‘Like.’

In any event, Facebook is not waiting for the FDA to create parameters for encouraging more discussion among drugmakers and consumers (back story). Why now, though? This is not clear. We have asked Facebook to explain why this is moving is being made now and will update you accordingly.

UPDATE: A Facebook spokesperson writes this: “In an effort to encourage conversations between brands and people, we recently made some changes to our policies that affect some official pharmaceutical Pages directed at building communities…We think these changes will help encourage an authentic dialogue on Pages.”

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