We love social media here at PharmTech.com, but many pharma companies have been wary about how to make the most of these new communication platforms—and understandably so given that last year Novartis received an FDA warning letter about a Facebook widgit on its website.
One pharma company that does seem to love social media though is Germany-based Merck KGaA—so much so that the company was prepared to go to court when its Facebook page was recently taken over by US rival Merck & Co.
Merck KGaA had entered into an agreement with Facebook for exclusive rights to the Facebook.com/merck page in March 2010. On October 11, however, the company realised it had lost administrative rights and that the page was now populated with Merck & Co. content. Although Merck KGaA complained to Facebook, the matter was not resolved. In a news story, the UK’s BBC claimed that Merck KGaA’s lawyer, Robert Horowitz, said that respondents at Facebook “either did not understand the problem… [or were] intentionally giving unresponsive answers.”
On November 21, Merck KGaA filed a lawsuit against Facebook with a New York state court requiring “pre-action disclosure” from Facebook to reveal how the administrative rights were lost.
If Facebook had not understood the situation before, it quickly swatted up on the issue. On Monday, November 28, it held its hands up and apologised for the situation, claiming it was an administrative error.
So who gets the page? According to a news report from AFP, Facebook has told the Mercks to battle it out themselves — or they are free to create a new profile page. Until that time, Facebook.com/Merck will be unavailable to all.
This whole incident may seem a little over the top—and it’s easy to see how Facebook could have made an error since the two companies sound so similar. Although they both originated from the same German company, they were split into different entities after World War I. However, it just goes to show how important social media platforms are to businesses—including big pharma. In several news reports from sources including Reuters and BBC News, Merck KGaA is quoted as saying, “Because Facebook is an important marketing device, the page is of great value to Merck…”
Personally, I think it’s great that pharma companies are taking an active interest in social media (although I suppose we’re all more likely to take an interest in something after we discover it’s been stolen by one of our neighbours… absence makes the heart grow fonder after all). Many companies are still reluctant to fully embrace these platforms, particularly as regulators, such as the aforementioned FDA, have not issued any guidelines but seem to be ever vigilant. Earlier this year, however, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) published a guidance suggesting best practices for managing adverse events and other pharmacovigilance data from the internet and social media tools. Slowly but surely, progress is being made in laying out firmer ground for pharma companies looking to find a path to social media success.