After a long delay, the Food and Drug Administration has finally released guidelines for social media marketing and advertising by pharmaceutical companies. Well, actually they’re just draft
guidelines, distributed to solicit comment by various stakeholders, but that’s better than the ad hoc decisions and occasional musings the agency was in the habit of issuing before.
The new guidelines cover all manner of “interactive promotional media,” meaning “tools and technologies that often allow for real-time communications and
interactions,” including social networks, microblogs, blogs, online communities, and live podcasts, among other things.
According to the FDA guidelines, firms will be held
responsible for all promotional content on any site or account owned or otherwise controlled by the firm, including, for example, all marketing messages posted by the company to its account on
Facebook or Twitter, as well as the company’s own blogs.
Marketers will also be held responsible for any content posted on third-party sites where their firm has powers of
editorial review or otherwise influences the content posted there -- but, importantly, they won’t be held responsible for content on sites where they are merely paying to post marketing
communications, with no control over the other content posted. They will also be responsible for any content posted by an employee or other paid representative on a third-party site.
In general, companies are allowed to post promotional messages on social media without first having to submit them to the FDA for approval, enabling them to take advantage of social media’s
dynamic, real-time qualities. However, they are obliged to submit all promotional content to the FDA after the fact. Because of the volume of content created by social media sites, the FDA suggested
that companies submit monthly reports of activity on “real-time” platforms like Twitter.
The new rules should also allow more flexibility when it comes to interaction with
patients and customers by permitting user comments on pharma Web sites and social media accounts, without requiring the company to submit every user comment for regulatory review.