Jumping on the Pharma Facebook Deathwagon

August 15th 2011 has passed, the day Facebook policy forced Pharma to activate its ‘Wall’ and allow people to write comments.

The build up to this ‘monumental’ event involved significant speculation – at least from online commentators (I didn’t catch it on the BBC but may have missed it)

Who would brave the storm of actually interacting with human beings online?

Who would choose the latter option of the cliché , ‘Engage or Die’

The majority of the online industry commentary was unsympathetic to Pharma’s dilemma.  The contrarian viewpoint was to defend those Pharma Facebook pages with wall comments switched off.  Everyone else just ‘laid the boot in’ to those pages about to draw their last breaths.  I was quick, to jump in with the majority and suggest :-

‘Voluntary euthanasia is the best thing for these Facebook pages allowing only a one way flow of information’

From a practical perspective, Jonathan Richman has a very strong argument why it is pointless having such a page.  Due to Facebook’s social algorithm, if you don’t allow comments, your Facebook page is effectively invisible.  It won’t appear in your ‘Fans’ newsfeed and no one will ever visit.

However this ‘crowing’ by myself and others, about the death of this ‘unengaging’ media risks missing an important point.

If we then agree, all Pharma facebook pages with disabled comments were bad, do we by inductive reasoning conclude, all such pages that have an open wall and commenting policy are good?

I won’t elaborate on the small number, of brave existing sites, who are staying ‘in business’ with largely laudable aims of developing a human face for pharma.  I am talking about the future Pharma-Zuckerberg spawn we have yet to witness.

My upbeat prediction, is that this watershed will actually embolden Pharma and spawn-a-plenty there will be.  The industry will rapidly note the world does not end, and the companies that allow comments won’t be run out of business.  We will then see a quick increase of Pharma Facebook 2.0 projects.

My downbeat prediction, many of these pages will be created with little or no regard to strategy – the questions below, will go largely unanswered.

–       Who are the people we should be communicating with?

–       Where are they online?

–       What do they want from us?

–       What are our business objectives?

–       What ‘behavioural’ objectives do we have for our target group?

–       What does ‘good’ look like and how do we measure it?

–       What is our long term strategy?

If you set up a Facebook page and people actually want to interact with it and comment then, you will, get noticed.

Without critical strategic thinking you may ‘get lucky’ and provide value for the community but not for your business.  Maybe at a future point in time, the page has served its business objectives but is still providing value to patients – what do you do?

The big problem for Pharma Facebook 1.0 pages was that they were invisible.  The big problem Pharma Facebook 2.0 pages may face is that they are not.


3 thoughts on “Jumping on the Pharma Facebook Deathwagon

  1. Gary,
    I think you hit on it. Not many in the pharma field understood this new found creature called social media and even fewer bothered to integrate it with their other media tools to figure out if it truly fit. They treated it generally as a web page, stagnant, and completely adherent to one-way communication. Now that the tables have turned on them in Facebook, they had to formally address whether the risk was worth partaking in, and how to use and monitor it. Basically, it came down to whether the extra work was worth it. The jury is still out, but the indicators are clear that pharma never intended to use social media as two-way communication. It was simply another marketing channel. If pharma decides to re-evaluate its relationship with the general public and use this medium in a humble fashion to address patient concerns and needs, then Web 2.0 can really start generating something powerful.


    1. Thanks for your comment Carmen – I do agree and think you make a great point re: Pharma trying to slot ‘new’ media into the old campaign way of thinking. I heard someone say the other day that this is now the end of Social Media within pharma…. the end! its hard to argue it got started!


  2. Hi Gary,

    Good point indeed!
    We*, as ‘critical pharma supporters’ are really in the midst of discussions about how pharma might move away from sheer promotion in communication to thinking about new ways of interaction, Not an easy task for a branch that has “promotion” skills and regulators’ vigilance as a natural and basic survival routine. One factor in this, might as well be the marketing and PR agencies that might help with good consult to their clients 😉
    E.g. see this discussion:
    I hope we see the rise of bold experiments from pharma and subsequent ruling in favor of health care providers and patients on the look out for genuine, reliable and truthful information!
    Rob Halkes (twitter @rohal)

    * We begin the contributors to #hcsmeu #socpharm #fdasm such as yourself.


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