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Do Drugs And Tweets Mix?

Wednesday, 23 Sep 2009 | 2:50 PM ET
Twitter
Source: Twitter
Twitter

The drug biz is abuzz over social media. It's the new frontier. For a lot of PR and corporate communications teams it's all about new media and social media. Some biopharmas, big and small, now have directors of social media. Most are still trying to find their way, but the Food and Drug Administration may soon direct them.

This FDA revealed its plansto hold a public hearing in November to talk about social media and the pharmaceutical and medical device industries' use of it.

I've been using Twitter for several months now. I invent as I go but, in general, I treat it as my personal wire service along with the occasional pop culture observation and shout out for the USC Trojans. But I'm certainly not marketing FDA-regulated products or anything else, for that matter. And that's what the agency is apparently getting concerned about.

I follow a number of biopharma companies on Twitter, but I'm keeping an eye out for news or something notable. I'm not interested in them selling me one of their products. Twitter requires you to say what you've gotta say in 140 characters or less. So, one of the main issues here is if a company wants to sell its drugs on a social media site like Twitter (I don't do Facebook or MySpace or any of the others, so I can't speak for those outlets) how do you possibly squeeze the half-page or 30-seconds of side effect warnings into a tweet? (That's what a message on Twitter is called.) Would a link to the safety stuff be sufficient?

Those are questions for the FDA to answer.

In the meantime, though, I decided to do a biopharma Twitter checkup. The world's biggest drug company Pfizer is following more people than any of its competitors and is number two in followers behind Novartis, but it's only sent out 37 tweets. Johnson & Johnson is a close third for followers. Marc Monseau, who tweets on behalf of JNJ, is the most prolific pharma twit, but he's kind of a hybrid because he sends out personal and corporate blurbs. As far as I can tell, the two big drug companies that are getting bought - Wyeth and Schering-Plough -aren't on Twitter. Merck is there, but only to post job openings. AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche and Genentech are also all on Twitter. Biotech giant Amgen has 1,352 followers, but is the only company that doesn't follow anyone. It has tweeted 54 times, but nearly half of the tweets were from a fashion show. Seriously. Bristol-Myers Squibb confirms it has the Twitter handle of bmsnewsand it has attracted nearly 350 followers even though it has yet to send a single tweet. A spokesman says the radio silence should end in the near future. Eli Lilly has also yet to join the conversation.

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I'm not sure how or if drug and device marketing will fit in on Twitter or social media. That's up to the FDA, I guess. But I do see it as another effective platform for companies to communicate with the public and the media. Just do it in a real-time manner. Treat it like an extension of the corporate website and the PR and business newswires. When you put out a release, get it out at the same time or as quickly as possible on Twitter or Facebook as well. And please leave the fashion shows to your internal corporate websites and e-newsletters.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman

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