Three pharmaceutical companies recently took big steps into the world of social media, launching Facebook applications that give consumers the ability to download and interact with health information material.
For those having a hard time keeping up with the rapidly evolving world of Web 2.0, a Facebook application (â€œappâ€ for short) is an online program, game, or service that consumers can add to their Facebook homepage by giving the app permission to exist on their site. Most apps are simple and free to use.
Last week, Shire announced that it had teamed up with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) to launch â€œVirtual IBD March on the Hill,â€ a Facebook application that provides health information about the disease. Shire will donate $1 for every person who installs the online program. The way the program works is that once the app is installed, users can choose a virtual shoe from a handful of designer styles, and virtually take part in CCFAâ€™s seventh National Advocacy Conference â€œIBD Day on the Hill.â€Â
â€œWe wanted to launch this program on Facebook to give people the opportunity to gather in one place to support the cause,â€ said Victoria Noble, product director for Shireâ€™s ulcerative colitis treatment Lialda (mesalamine). â€œSo much awareness is driven by walks, but folks are left behind because they canâ€™t actually walk.â€
The application is branded with Shireâ€™s name, but no product is associated with it. At this time there are no plans to add an interactive tool or a forum, but Shire does intend to tie the site in with its sales force detailing material and professional marketing assets.
Asked how Facebook marketing differs from buying an online ad on a Crohnâ€™s disease Web site, Noble told Pharm Exec that the application reaches a different audience. â€œThe people involved in Facebook are looking for patient support and community, as opposed to someone that searches Google for treatment information,â€ she said.
Shire, however, wasnâ€™t the first company out the door with a Facebook app. In March, Pfizer and EMD Serono partnered to release â€œMS Champions,â€ a much richer application featuring a unique map that shows the location of every registered user who is volunteering, walking, or riding in support of multiple-sclerosis treatments. The site also provides information about the disease and a link to a branded site for Rebif (interferon beta 1a), EMD Serono, and Pfizerâ€™s MS therapy.
The companies are now gearing up for phase two of the project, which will include some form of interactive conversation, though the details are still being ironed out.
â€œOne of the key things about Facebook is the ability for users to blog and express themselves on the site,â€ said Carole Huntsman, vice president of marketing for US neurology at EMD Serono. â€œWe are working on our social media policy overall, and we have been looking at how we can evolve the site going forward.â€
The plan is to allow users to blog in real time, but have comments reviewed before they are posted in order to make sure that all content is compliant with regulatory guidelines.