The FDA public hearings on social media have come and gone. Every phrase uttered from the podium and every word that appeared in a presentation has been examined ad nauseam (for a list of recaps on the event, take a look at Shwen Gwee’s post). For two days last week, social media took center stage in the pharmaceutical marketing mix. The FDA hearings created a spotlight on social media and forced marketers to at least consider how it fits into their overall strategy—something many were unwilling to do in the past.
But now we enter an abyss. Social media no longer sits at the top of the agenda of policy makers, pharmaceutical marketers and agency people alike. A conversation that escalated to a full-blown debate last week could slip into anonymity.
Many people are focusing on the official guidance that will eventually be issued by the FDA on how to use social media in pharmaceutical marketing. But whatever guidance is forthcoming from the FDA is not the most important deliverable that will come out of the hearings. While it will help to ease tensions around engaging in social media and hopefully remove some of the regulatory barriers, it still does little to educate an industry that is just now starting to grasp the potential of social media.
The most important part of the FDA social media hearings is already in process—the discussion it sparked.
My belief has always been that regulatory concerns are just one of the many challenges that face pharmaceutical marketers. It is a barrier but if it were suddenly removed, there would not be a flood of pharma companies jumping into social media. Why? Because another major hurdle is changing a culture that is not comfortable with relinquishing brand control and does not fully believe in the value of social media. Last week was a monumental step forward in that education and advocacy process.
For two days last week, the FDA handed social media pundits a bull horn. And while the conversation spiked to a deafening level—it is essential that we continue that momentum. Bloggers, trade press and mainstream media are covering the issues of social media for the pharmaceutical industry in droves. The FDA handed us a stage: will we continue to occupy the center or will we exit stage left?