Big Pharma and devicemakers plot careful social media moves

Major drug and device companies are abuzz about the possibilities and pratfalls of using social media, and some of the top layers in those industries weighed in during a conference discussion in Orlando this week. And drug and device marketers appeared more interested in social media for what it could learn from such platforms than what it could say with them, Medical Marketing & Media reported.

The upshot is that Big Pharma and device companies can sometimes reap the most value from social networking when they shut up and listen to others playing on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

For instance, device giant Medtronic ($MDT) gleaned from various digital media including YouTube that patients interested in neuromodulation therapy seemed to value the online opinions of other patients more than other sources, according to the trade publication's article. Also, UCB Pharma has tapped the social network to learn about how patients feel about their products and to help the company plan clinical trials.

Recently GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) found technology to help the London-based drug giant eavesdrop on social media and online comments of importance to the company. On the flip side, Johnson & Johnson's Janssen unit pulled down a Facebook page over concern about what consumers were saying in the largely uncensored forum.

The FDA late last year shared guidance on how companies should deal with off-label communications with digital technologies such as social networks. Yet there's still lots of gray area that has left pharma marketing aces trying to plot their strategies with scant guidance from regulators.

"We continue to struggle at Sanofi with, what is digital?" said Todd Francis, vice president and head of commercial support and enterprise marketing, Sanofi U.S., as quoted by Medical Marketing Media. Social media, he said, is "forcing us to rethink how we approach research and what role does active social listening play in…[taking the place of] traditional market research."

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