As I See It: Embracing social media—and regulatory ambiguity

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Social media for regulated industry is a green field of opportunity. But to maximize the opportunity, we must accommodate the reality of a messier world. Social media, is messy and the regulatory framework (or lack thereof) is equally so. Get used to it. Embracing social media means embracing regulatory ambiguity. 

It's not going to be easy, or risk-free, or inexpensive. Benjamin Franklin said: “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” Facebook's recent medical mandate provides pharmaceutical marketers with an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the full capabilities of social media and embrace the three tenets of Pharmaceutical Marketing 3.0: 

1. For the past 20 years, pharma marketing budgets were dedicated to selling products. The next era of pharma marketing will put the company in charge of education. Not third parties, not KOLs—but the company speaking on behalf of itself. Pharma must realize their own network power.

2. The blockbuster era will be replaced by the era of post-patent medicine. Pharma will need a robust portfolio of lower-cost medications to sell and an army of brand loyalists to buy. Communications programs, supported by social media must be one tool because it's where the digitally empowered people are. 

3. Pharma loses over $30 billion a year through non-compliance. Social media can educate and change patient behavior by earning their trust through transparent dialogue. 

As Marshall McLuhan wrote: “At electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential.” Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and fasten your seatbelts.

Peter Pitts is president, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, and a former associate commissioner, FDA

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