Social media challenges and benefits for pharmaceutical companies

Rodica Ceslov

Wild Frog Studio

Rodica Ceslov explores the challenges associated with social media in the pharmaceutical industry and the benefits of pushing through those barriers and using social media effectively.

Social media continues to have an impact on everyday life and especially in the business sector where it has changed marketing strategies and has been used increasingly as an effective research tool, taking enterprises into new realms when it comes to advertising, marketing, and competition. Social media for the pharmaceutical industry leaders in particular has huge potential for demonstrating the benefits of certain medications, but there arises a possibility of irresponsible reporting, which could have dire implications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been pressed for clarification on potential social media risks for pharma, particularly the liabilities they may face in connection with posts from third parties on information regarding specific drugs. This guidance is a major challenge for the pharmaceutical companies to secure in order to ensure their compliance with all the legal aspects of social media reporting.


“…the FDA social media regulations for pharma marketing are extremely strict…”


The FDA has an obligation to ensure that drugs, vaccines, and any other medical products that are intended for use or consumption are safe and have a positive effect on illnesses and injuries. For this reason, the FDA social media regulations for pharma marketing are extremely strict, and at the same time still somewhat ambiguous, lacking clear structural boundaries that are needed to prevent unwarranted issues. Unfortunately, this puts the FDA on a collision course with the pharmaceutical companies. Patients are keen to learn as much as they can, so quality social networks and open forums can be a great way of educating themselves regarding potential cures for their ailments. Professionals in the healthcare industry can see the advantages that social media presents, but the battle to gain clarity from the FDA continually frustrates their ability to reach potential customers. The tools within social media offer new opportunities to promote pharmaceutical products, but compliance with the FDA remains the stumbling block. Potential social media risks for pharma are holding the industry back at a time when a lot of businesses are utilizing social media.


“There is no question that social media for pharmaceutical industry can deliver.”


There is no question that social media for pharmaceutical industry can deliver. Currently, the marketing processes follow the intentions of the regulatory bodies which, despite being outlined for what is believed to be for the good of the public, actually prevent information that is prospectively far more expedient from being released. Were the reins to be loosened a little, and the potential social media risks for pharma managed better, the resulting benefits would outweigh any conceivable disadvantages. The greatest step forward would be to allow the consumer to be more aware throughout the entire development process of new drugs, including concept and clinical analysis, rather than simply being tagged on the end of a sales and marketing directive. By incorporating the social technologies available, doctors themselves can change the face of their health marketing strategies. It will allow them not only to engage with established patients, but also accurately pass on to the public what they as professionals can identify as critical news. Things such as allergy inoculation reminders can easily be sent out without the need for expensive traditional media campaigns.

Although it is understood that the FDA’s social media regulations for pharma are in place for all the right reasons, it is up to the pharmaceutical companies to come up with the programs which will comply with the stipulations, while also permitting them to communicate an informative message. Traditional approaches still have an important place, but utilizing social media is a must especially when one considers the general benefit versus cost and the level of engagement of different demographics made possible through these channels. Inevitably, drawing up new policies will initially require the assistance of legal departments working closely with marketing professionals. Internal controls will have to be stringent to ensure there are no loopholes in the policy that could present potential legal problems. Staff training will be a priority, and only after receiving such training should any social media activity be permitted. These policies can signal a refreshing new approach for the pharmaceutical companies. Much of the misunderstandings and frustrations will be eased and an exciting spirit can take the industry smoothly forward and ignite interest and engagement from the public.

 Read Rodica’s follow up article here.



About the author:

Rodica Ceslov is president of Wild Frog Studio, a dynamic full-service firm helping companies create go-to-market strategies and execute product launches for new products, new product line extensions and re-packaging existing products. She has worked for clients in a variety of industries, including: healthcare, pharmaceutical, technology, real estate, publishing, management consulting, non profit, retail, food, beauty and entertainment.

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How can we overcome challenges in social media within pharma?