Social media is so vital, even FDA is stepping to it

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It's time pharma and health care company leaders heard an unequivocal message: Social media is the most important evolution in customer engagement since DTC went live in 1997. Social media is the health industry's greatest opportunity, and its last, best hope to rebuild trust with consumers. It is so important, even FDA is working to help companies engage.

Social media is shorthand for a revolutionary shift in communication behavior: every man, woman and child on earth can interact with each other — and they expect to interact with health brands, too. In a 2009 survey of Health Activists (with technical assistance from the FDA), even consumer health social media opinion leaders agreed that imdustry participation provides value to the community—but companies have an obligation to correct misinformation, and to follow regulations.

Perhaps to the industry's surprise, FDA is relentlessly focused on addressing social media regulatory challenges. The agency's unprecedented drive to deliver guidance is bold proof that FDA and social media users see health as social media's higher calling. FDA's epic Part 15 hearings last November weren't just useful input for the agency; the 77 presentations were watched live online by countless health company attorneys, regulators and corporate leaders. Within 48 hours, they had graduated from a health social media boot camp.

Already this year, FDA's Jean-Ah Kang and her team have gone on record confirming that they will deliver guidance by the end of 2010 (pundits said it would never happen). And industry needs it. In the absence of any internet guidance, let alone social media guidance, internal legal and regulatory teams were forced into a hyper-conservative cave, anticipating every worst-case social media scenario. Even restrictive FDA guidance will provide a path—a set of rails within which companies can engage with more confidence.

The impending guidance, and internal company teams' newfound understanding of social media, has already changed internal conversations from “What is it?” to “How can we do this?”

So while it's fair to say the health industry has been slow to adopt social media, the focus of FDA and hundreds of millions of social media consumers has delivered the need for speed.

Jack Barrette is CEO at WEGO Health
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