Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pharma Facebook Pages Being Phased Out: A Good Run While It Lasted! Did Facebook Kill the Beast?

August is the cruelest month, especially for pharmaceutical company Facebook pages.

No doubt you've heard that as of August 15, 2011, Facebook will be opening up comments on ALL pharma pages with some exceptions (listen to these podcasts: "Implications of Facebook's Page Commenting Changes: Turning Off Comments May Be a Problem" and "Pharma Facebook Commenting Changes: The 'Final' Story"). That means that the pharmaceutical industry will no longer be able to shut off comments on their Facebook pages. This has lead to speculation that many pharma FB pages will be shut down come August 15.

A couple of pharmaceutical companies have already taken down their Facebook pages or announced they will do so. These include Janssen's ADHD Moms page, which was the first pharma Facebook page, launched in June, 2008, by McNeil Pediatrics (see The Pharmaguy Social Media Timeline™).

"A new Facebook policy, scheduled for Aug. 15, will specifically impact communities that are formed to help people learn more about disease conditions, such as ADHD Moms™, which we sponsor," says a note on the ADHD Moms page. 
"This new policy will alter our ability to consider the appropriateness of comments before they are posted which is important to us as a company in a highly regulated industry." 
"As a result, our ADHD Moms%reg; community will not be available after Aug. 14. Additionally, as of Aug. 9, our Moments™ tab will no longer be available. We want you to know that we value the community formed on this page and this was a difficult decision, but necessary given the Facebook policy change. We apologize to anyone in our community who may be disappointed by this decision."

Sanofi-Aventis said it would discontinue its VOICES page, which became infamous when it was attacked by a "disgruntled" patient (see "Disgruntled Patient Shuts Down sanofi-aventis Facebook Page").

"Please note that we will be discontinuing the sanofi-aventis VOICES page, effective August 9. We would like to continue this conversation with you, so we ask that you go to the Sanofi US Facebook page to do so."

This marks a turning point in pharma social media. Janssen effectively abandoned 23,725 (more or less) people (including 28 0f my Facebook friends) who "liked" ADHD Moms. It offered no alternative to these people other than third-party resources. Sanofi-Aventis, on the other hand, directed its 859 friends (including 22 of my friends) to its Sanofi US Facebook page, which currently is liked by 360 people (including 11 of my friends).

On the Sanofi US Facebook page, the company states that "To comply with applicable Laws and regulations, we do not use the standard Facebook wall for discussion." It does, however, allow comments on a special "Discussions" page where it previewsthem before being posted. "Just a friendly reminder that all posts are being moderated to ensure they comply with our Terms of Use," said Sanofi.

I had problems finding the Terms of USe, so I posted a question asking where I could find them. I received a reply within 2.5 hours (see screen shot below). The time stamp is odd - I actually posted my question around 3 or 4 PM Eastern US, but the time stamp says 2:20 AM; perhaps my Twitter pal @jonmrich can explain this discrepancy. Another thing Jon might be able to explain is how come Sanofi can still have comments shut off on its wall?

Did the new Facebook policy actually cause these companies to shut down their pages? Janssen seems to put all the blame on Facebook whereas Sanofi seems to blame "Laws and regulations," implying government interference. Of course, there are NO federal Laws or regulations specifically prohibiting Sanofi or any other pharma company from using the "standard" Facebook wall for discussions.

Blaming Facebook or "Laws and regulations" for this reminds me of the final scene of King Kong where the beast is lying dead at the foot of the Empire State Building:
Police Lieutenant: Well, Denham, the airplanes got him.
Carl Denham: Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

I think there are other reasons why these pages are being shut down -- (1) one (ie, ADHD Moms) may have outlived its usefulness, and (2) one (VOICES) may have been ill-conceived in the first place, giving no benefit to the company and having a tainted history. In these cases, it's just best to shut them down and move on.

Unfortunately, Janssen doesn't seem to have an alternative FB page. It just "abandoned" its 23,725 FB friends. In the scheme of things, this is not a big number considering that Janssen claims ADHD "impacts five million children in the United States, while nearly eight million adults have been diagnosed with the condition" (see here). 23,725 represents only 0.47% of the children's ADHD market. In other words, ADHD Moms was a dismal failure in terms of reaching this market - maybe.

Over the next few days I will maintain a vigil over the pharma Facebook death march. Help me by letting me know of other pharma Facebook pages that announce their demise.


  1. Hey John,

    I agree that the coming change on Facebook will definitely have implications across the industry and it will certainly be interesting to watch how it plays out. I wanted to clarify a few things regarding our pages: We will be incorporating the sanofi-aventis VOICES page into our Sanofi US page in the next few days – just trying to consolidate our Facebook presence. We will also be opening the standard wall to comments on all of our posts and updating our Terms of Use on our Info section to reflect the way in which the page will be used moving forward.

    Of course you’re right; there are no laws or regs that specifically prohibit us using the standard Facebook wall for discussions. However, there are others on how we can interact with consumers and without explicit guidance from the FDA, we are doing our best to apply those rules to Facebook. Still, we’re hoping the changes that we will be implementing in the coming days serve to make the page more interactive and conversational. After all, that’s the point of social media, right?

    We look forward to your feedback as we make these changes.

    Kind regards,

    Stacy Burch / Sanofi US

  2. Stacy,

    Thanks for the note. Good luck with your new Facebook page. I like that you will be accepting comments and look forward to seeing your revised page and policies.

    Although I don't fully believe in numbers like "friends," I'll check in from time to time to see how that progresses for you.

  3. Janssen is also taking down their ADHD Allies Facebook page.

    But Janssen is the only one I know of. Are there more Facebook pages being discontinued due to the rules change?

  4. Maybe Janssen is getting out of the ADHD treatment business!

  5. Hi John

    It is stating the obvious to say Facebook is about discussion and sharing. Its so obvious in fact that Pharma often miss the point by either using FB as a shouting medium or a sanitised platform where they can choose comments THEY like to post. The best result is the voluntary euthanasia that we are seeing. Those companies into one way shouting should quickly fall on their social media swords. @sanofiUS came back to me on twitter and plan to open their wall in the coming days - no doubt in line with the ruling but a positive step. If @Boehringer can do it, can other pharma co's excuses be anything but hot air?

  6. "voluntary euthanasia" -- I like that!

  7. Stacy,

    It's great to see Sanofi rolling with the punches and regrouping. Social Media is always changing and engaged brands like yours that are quick to change right alongside it will end up all the better in the end. I can not imagine a brand wanting to simply abandon a medium like Facebook after putting effort into cultivating a following.

    Best of luck with your ongoing efforts on Facebook and elsewhere in the social arena.

    Jason Boies
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  8. Thanks Jason! We’re doing our best to be as social as possible given the unique challenges of this industry and the ever-changing landscape of social media. Appreciate the support!

  9. I completely understand the regulatory hurdles and lack of guidance that Pharma faces when contemplating the social media universe. But I agree with the above-commenter that more often than not, Pharma that is utilizing these online resources are missing the point - discussion is a two-way street. If it's simply being used by one side to spread a message that may not even be wanted, and comments are either moderated or not allowed, then it simply defeats the purpose. Without the applicable guidance, it seems that Pharma could simply take the stance of being open, honest, and transparent in its social media use above all. As a patient-advocate, that would be my hope above all else.

  10. Did the new Facebook scheme actually cause these companies to shut down their pages? Janssen seems to put all the accuse on Facebook whereas Sanofi seems to blame "Laws and regulations," implying sway interference. Of course, there are NO federal Laws or regulations specifically prohibiting Sanofi or any other pharma callers from using the standard Facebook wall for discussions.


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