From Monday August 15th, all pharmaceutical company pages on Facebook must allow commenting, or remove their pages from the social media website. Comment blocking will still be possible on some prescription product pages, but those comprise only a small minority of the pharmaceutical company pages currently residing on Facebook.
Pharmaceutical companies are latecomers to the social media party, but their caution is perhaps understandable. Concerns over what users might say range from anecdotal reporting of side effects to advice for inappropriate use of drugs, to giving inexpert medical advice. In fact, the companies reportedly only joined Facebook after the social media company allowed them to disable their walls and/or commenting, a privilege that was not offered to any other industry.
It is unclear as to why Facebook has decided to change its policy, although it is by no means inappropriate. After all, a social media platform is, at its heart, a two way conversation. Arguably, if pharmaceutical companies are not interested in hearing people’s opinions, then they should content themselves with a company website, which disseminates information unidirectionally, and does not in any way facilitate potentially reputation damaging dialogue.
So far, Pfizer and GSK have opened commenting on their pages, whilst AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have closed theirs. As of this morning, the Novartis Facebook page simply states that it is “being redesigned to align with new Facebook policies.”
Will Facebook’s new policy usher in a new era of transparency and good relations between drug companies and the public?
However, it’s important to recognise that first steps are often wobbly. The FDA’s announcement back in March that it will once again delay releasing a guidance for the use of social media by pharmaceutical companies has likely added to the industry’s trepidation, as it will be difficult for companies to know what the rules and boundaries are as they make their first forays into the wide world of social media. But the fact that not all of the companies have chosen to leave Facebook altogether is encouraging, and a positive sign that the companies are at least willing to work towards greater transparency and accountability to consumers.