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How Should Pharma Engage in Patient/Physician Social Networks?
(Survey started 12 May 2009; still running. N=156 respondents as of 10-Nov-2011)

SM Principles Survey LogoThere are several ways in which pharmaceutical companies or their agents can ADVERTISE products and ENGAGE in conversations via social networks. This survey asks repondents their opinions on best practices. Click here to take the survey and see the latest results when you finish.

See Summary of Results and Resources & Further Reading below...

The pharmaceutical industry is currently experimenting with social media as a channel for promoting products and/or enhancing disease awareness. Each company may have its own guidelines for best practices in this space and they are getting advice from outside interested parties such as ad agencies.

There are several ways in which pharmaceutical companies or their agents can ADVERTISE products and ENGAGE in conversations via social networks. This survey asks respondents their opinions on:

  • The most appropriate way to place display ads on social network sites
  • The best practices for posting messages to social network sites
  • Whether or not pharmaceutical companies should develop and make public guidelines for their use of and engagement in social network sites.

Fair Social Media Practice Principles
It used to be that privacy policies were written in legalese incorporated into terms of use agreements. Even when separate privacy policies were developed, they varied from site to site owned and run by the same organization. After government (ie, FTC) privacy policy guidelines and laws were enacted, privacy policies were required to comply with standard fair information practice principles that make certain promises about protecting a user's privacy (see, for example, "Pharmaceutical Compliance with Fair Information Practice Principles"). Privacy policies also have become much easier to read and understand.

The same should be true of the social media policies. Should owners and operators of online discussion sites -- whether they be independent corporations such as Sermo, or hospitals, other healthcare organizations, and even pharmaceutical companies (someday) -- publish SOCIAL MEDIA POLICIES that comply with as-yet-to-be-determined "fair social media practice principles?"

If so, what are the essential elements of "Fair Social Media Practice Principles?"

Some ideas for essential social media good practice principles include:

  • A comment moderation policy that explains how discussions are reviewed before or after publication
  • Qualifications for discussion moderators, if there are moderators
  • How site moderators are trained regarding policies
  • Rules for participation in discussions by site owner employees
  • Rules for participation by third-party sponsors, clients or their agents
  • How "misinformation" is defined and what the policy is for correcting such information

Survey Results:
The overall results are summarized in charts below. You can view a more detailed and up-to-date online Summary of Responses plus view comments from respondents after taking the survey yourself: here.

There are several ways in which pharmaceutical companies or their agents can ADVERTISE products via social networks. Respondents were asked to indicate how appropriate or inappropriate you think each of the following advertising options are. (Response ranges: Very Appropriate, Somewhat Appropriate, Somewhat Inappropriate, Very Inappropriate). Respondents were also asked to add comments, including other options (you can view comments after taking the survey yourself: here):

  1. Placing clearly labeled product display ads on social network pages just as on any other Web page.
  2. Developing a Facebook page or forum on a social network site that indicates it is a sponsored page/forum.

Appropriate SM Advertising Chart

There are several ways in which pharmaceutical companies or their agents can ENGAGE in conversations via social networks. Please indicate your level of agreement or disagreement with the following options. (Response ranges: Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Neither Agree Nor Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, Disagree Strongly). Respondents were also aked to add comments, including other options (you can view comments after taking the survey yourself: here):

  1. Just like any other user of social networks, it is perfectly OK for an agent or employee of a pharma company to post messages under an alias that allows anonymity.
  2. Pharma agents and employees can use an alias to protect their true identity when posting, but should include a statement in their posts that they are employed by a pharma company.
  3. Anonymous or not, pharma agents and employees should never post messages that promote or mention brand name drugs.
  4. Before a pharma company agent or employee posts ANY message (even if no brand name is mentioned) to a social network site, it should be cleared or pre-cleared by the company's legal/regulatory people.

Appropriate SM Engaging Chart

DISTINCT FROM ANY FDA OR OTHER REGULATORY GUIDELINES, should pharma companies develop and MAKE PUBLIC their OWN guidelines (external-facing social media policies) for their use of and engagement in social network sites that include policies related to advertising and posting messages? Respondents were also aked to add comments, especially regarding "maybe" responses (you can view comments after taking the survey yourself: here):

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe, it depends
Make SM GLs Public or Not

Respondents were asked what are some "essential" elements of an external-facing social media policy (ie, "Fair Social Media Practice Principles")? Respondents could check all that apply in the list below. Respondents were also aked to add comments, including other essential elementss (you can view comments after taking the survey yourself: here):

  1. A comment moderation policy that explains how discussions are reviewed before or after publication
  2. Qualifications for discussion moderators, if there are moderators
  3. How site moderators are trained regarding policies
  4. Rules for participation in discussions by site owner employees
  5. Rules for participation by third-party sponsors, clients or their agents
  6. How "misinformation" is defined and what the policy is for correcting such information

Essential Elements of a Public SM Policy

NOTE: 49% of respodents said they were VERY supportive of the pharma industry and another 33% said they were SOMEWHAT supportive of the industry. 65% were residents of the U.S. 24% said they were a pharmaceutical, biotech, or drug device company employee (including research). 47% said they were employed at an ad agency/marketing/communications or other company having pharmaceutical companies as clients and 5% said they were a Physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional/medical student. 11 % said they were aligned with a Publishing/Media/Blogger/Health Web Site and 7% said they were a "Consumer, consumer advocate, patient, or other non-industry aligned member of the public."

Resources & Further Reading:

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