Friday, August 19, 2011

Social Media "Flash Mobs": Pharma's Worst Facebook Nightmare!

Last week I  presented two case studies of how pharmaceutical companies are dealing with Facebook's new commenting policy that requires most pharma pages to allow commenting (see "Pharma Facebook Pages Being Phased Out: A Good Run While It Lasted! Did Facebook Kill the Beast?"). These cases illustrated two different approaches to shutting down pharma FB pages in anticipation of the commenting policy change.

The trend seems to be to shut down pharma product or disease awareness FB pages while maintaining the corporate pages. Two examples of this trend are the Pfizer (here) and GSK (UK; here) FB pages, which are open and allow comments (with post-moderation; ie, deleting offending comments AFTER posting).

So, how's that working for Pfizer and GSK?

GSK is experiencing the kind of attack that beset one of Sanofi's Facebook pages awhile ago (see "Disgruntled Patient Shuts Down sanofi-aventis Facebook Page"). That is, an organized attack by disgruntled patients. In fact, a blog post (here) gives specific instructions for how to participate in this Facebook "flash mob" action:
  1. Sign up to the GlaxoSmithKline Facebook page.
    [Do this by clicking the 'Like' button.]
  2. Open comments under the "Glaxo "Builds Bonnie Babies" advertising hoarding opposite Kings Cross Station, London in 1921, UK" thread.
  3. Ask them a question about one of their products.
  4. Sit back and watch consumer queries get deleted.
GSK is now busy dealing with all the comments coming in.

Here's a typical exchange:
"Joanne" posts this: "Hi , A friend of mine is taking paroxetine and she is thinking of having a baby. Is paroxetine a teratogen?" 
To which GSK responds: "Hi Joanne – We are not allowed to discuss product information or offer advice to individuals about medicines. Please ask your friend to speak to her healthcare provider if she has any concerns about her medication." 
To which Joanne responded: "i too would like to know why the only answers here appear to be consult your healthcare provider, surely we should be asking GSK the makers of these drugs as surely GSK would know more than any GP? after all surely it is GSK who do all the trials ect and not the gps?" 
To which GSK responded: "Unfortunately, we have had to remove from this thread a series of comments that mentioned prescription medicines or contained defamatory messages. Due to the regulations that govern our industry, we are not able to discuss our medicines or offer advice to individuals about medicines on this Facebook page."
Whew!

Pfizer took a pro-active approach and opened a thread on its new policy with this post:
"Now that you can respond to our posts, please know that we may sometimes need to remove a comment. Click on the 'Not Seeing Your Comment?' link on the left to learn why. Thank you for visiting us!'
Pfizer was immediately embroiled in a comment war with "Dana" and removed one of her posts and added this comment: "Hi Dana – It looks like your earlier post was blocked, as it led to a discussion about products. As a regulated industry, there are a number of rules that concern how we talk about our medicines. In light of that, we have elected not to have any conversations regarding prescription products on our Facebook page. That being said, why don’t you reach out to us at www.pfizer.com/contact, and we can address your question."

Of course, Dana expected this, having previously posted "Take your time. I bet you're just thinking of a really good answer to my question." After Pfizer explained why they deleted her question, Dana said "'Reach out to us'. What a cute marketing phrase. What genius thought of that. So you won't tell us, the American people, why our hospitals don't have the supplies they need. Also cute."

And so it goes.

All this raises a number of questions:
  • Will these types of comments and exchanges continue to plaque pharma FB pages?
  • Will pharma need to employ additional internal or external resources to manage FB comments? Is it boom time for vendors offering this service?
  • Considering that corporate pages are targets for "muppets" -- a term @Alex__Butler uses to describe people who attack pharma pages -- will pharma EVER re-open product and disease specific pages that are even more juicy targets for social media "flash mobs?"
Only time will tell.

6 comments:

  1. Organised? You put me on a pedastal Pharmaguy and disrespect my readers.

    Thanks for the plug though

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bob,

    Perhaps I should have put it in quotes as in "organized."

    I stand by my analogy with "flash mobs" destroying edifices (whether they be buildings or FB pages).

    ReplyDelete
  3. No other way to contact Pharma. You ever tried complaining about a drug without being refereed to your doctor?

    Disappointed in your journalism skills. Half the people that ave left comments on the GSK page do not even follow my blog.

    Good luck with your work.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dude, I am NOT a journalist and PROUD of it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi John,

    I do not think that people who have issues and questions for pharmaceutical companies are 'muppets'. People who take the time to engage with pharma should be welcomed.

    The point was with regard to people who intentionally flout transparent terms and conditions on facebook pages in order to make some kind of broader statement.

    What would be helpful is if we could have a more open dialogue with people to explain not only what these regs are but why they are there. For example the Pfizer page has a very nice explanation of the commenting policy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Evelyn Pringle7:59 PM

    Poor, poor picked on Pharma - an industry that is so undeserving.

    ReplyDelete