But that’s about to change.
In a reversal by Facebook, most drug company pages will have to have open Walls starting Monday.
Companies are worried that open Walls mean risks, and many are reconsidering their engagement on Facebook. On Friday, AstraZeneca, which sells the antidepressant Seroquel, shut down a page devoted to depression. Johnson & Johnson said it will close four of its pages Monday. Other companies said they will monitor their pages more closely once the changes take effect.
The industry is concerned that users might write about bad side effects, promote off-label use or make inappropriate statements about a product, and that the comments could raise concerns from government regulators.
Facebook would not say what specifically prompted its change of heart. Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications for Facebook, said in an e-mail, “We think these changes will help encourage an authentic dialogue on pages.”
Facebook will allow companies to continue to block Wall comments on specific prescription product pages, but those are a minority of pharmaceutical company pages. Most of the open pages would be focused on companies themselves or on disease or patient-specific communities, which then have ties to the companies’ prescription products.
AstraZeneca’s “Take on Depression” page, which closed Friday, had more than 1,100 “likes” — people following the page and its updates.
“We’re very strongly committed to social media, but we have to make sure that the amount of time and resources spent on [monitoring it for problems] is appropriate,” said Tony Jewell, an AstraZeneca spokesman.
Johnson & Johnson will shut down two pages focused on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — ADHD Allies and ADHD Moms — along with pages focused on rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Combined, the four pages have more than 40,000 likes. Johnson & Johnson sells the ADHD drug Concerta, psoriasis drug Stelara and arthritis drugs Simponi and Remicade.
“The regulatory environment and changes in Facebook functionality are creating a much more difficult environment for managing these kinds of pages,” said Bill Price, a Johnson & Johnson spokesman.
Facebook has become an increasingly popular destination for patient communities, with many shifting over the past couple years from message boards and other Web sites to pages hosted by companies, according to Lisa Gualtieri, an assistant professor at the Tufts School of Medicine who studies social media and health.
Many companies hadn’t joined Facebook until the past year and a half, according to Steve Woodruff, a social-media consultant. “Pharmaceutical companies have been at the shallow end of the social-media pool,” Woodruff said, “because it’s such a highly regulated and conservative industry.”