Companies react to Facebook's open walls

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After Facebook's decision on August 15 to enforce open walls on the site's pharma pages, companies had two options: close down their pages altogether, or let the public openly comment on their products.

While the implications of the latter decision caused many a pharma to shutter their pages—including a Facebook page of AstraZeneca's devoted to depression, and two Johnson & Johnson pages dedicated to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—several companies have kept their pages open, despite added possibilities for negative comments, or worse, consumer remarks about side effects or the promotion of off-label use, which could result in an adverse event report (AER) being filed with the FDA.

Brian Overstreet, president of AdverseEvents, Inc., a California-based service provider which focuses on AERs reported to FDA, surmises that since the level and quality of information that is typically posted to pharma Facebook walls doesn't meet criteria to report events, the biggest fear centers on negative user reactions to drugs.

“[Pharma companies] just don't have the resources to filter [walls] and have not been given guidance by FDA on how to deal with it,” Overstreet explains.

As for the companies that continue to maintain pages, many do so to give patient communities the chance to have ongoing dialogue about the problems they are facing with their diseases or medical conditions. This route  requires vigilant monitoring and filtering of comments—via pharma company staff and in some cases third-party maintenance.

“We operate a system of post-moderation,” says Sue Silk, director, communications & public affairs for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Janssen, commenting on the pharma's monitoring of its Psoriasis360 Facebook page. “The tool ‘conversocial' flags any new comments.” Some companies, such as Boehringer Ingelheim and medical device company Zimmer, monitor their pages manually to encourage “best-in-class” social engagement, according to company reps.

While deleting comments happens, less likely has been the instance of AERs resulting from pharma Facebook comments. However, the likelihood of FDA outlining a standard set of guidelines for pharma social media anytime soon sparks Overstreet to add, “God knows if and when that will happen.”

In a May 17 email, Facebook outlined the policy: “Starting today, Facebook will no longer allow admins of new pharma pages to disable commenting on the content their page shares with people on Facebook. Pages that currently have commenting disabled will no longer have this entitlement after August 15th. Subject to Facebook's approval, branded pages solely dedicated to a prescription drug may (continue to) have commenting functionality removed.”

The policy change, said Facebook, “supports consistency for the Facebook Pages product and encourages an authentic dialogue between people and business on Facebook.”
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