FDA releases a draft for proposed guidance on how companies use Twitter to market products, creating a new niche for marketing communications and sales professionals.

June 23, 2014

4 Min Read
FDA Creates Opportunities For Device Professionals With Social Media Draft Guidance


After nearly five years in the planning, the FDA released the initial draft on character-restricted social media platform messaging (essentially Twitter).

As usual, it’s a big hot mess for marketing communications, regulatory and legal affairs professionals within medical device and pharmaceutical companies.

The draft of the proposed FDA Internet/Social Media Platform Policy for Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices would require that pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers be able to both ‘make a product benefit claim’ and ‘incorporate risk information’ in the 140 character space limitation on Twitter.

Just how does a company wordsmith a constructive message in such few words?

“Micro Writing.”

Since the very nature of social media is to establish engagement with consumers in a timely manner, responsible drug and medical device companies need to make the messaging informative and meaningful within the 140 character limitation.  

To do that, they need to take their current technical writers, marketing communication, sales and marketing experts, and task them with the creation of condensed advertising directives that can borrow from other industries to reach an internet-savvy medical consumer.

While it is hoped that patients would continue to seek out competent medical advice on any health issue, the truth is, more and more of us start with the Internet for researching medical and health issues. And if peer-reviewed sites like WebMD, NIH.gov, and disease or condition or treatment specific websites are relatively informative, then character-restricted sites like Twitter are the clown car equivalent of trying to pack a ton of content into a limited space.

If you have never composed a Twitter message (tweet), it may be demonstrative to know that THIS sentence is exactly 140 characters in length.

Not a ton of words to convey to a patient or physician a message that could be life saving. The sentence above has no url or website link and minimum digital real estate to incorporate risk information, contact website, phone number or email address.
What if the original message is “re-tweeted” by a patient, company sales rep, or other individual:  Is the pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturer responsible for the chain of tweets after the social media train has proverbially left the station? Will regulatory and legal affairs be required to pore over each tweet and each reply? 

The two examples (for non-existent companies) in the draft that FDA published last was indeed well under the 140 character limitation:
Example 1
For severe headache from traumatic brain injury

Example 2
NoFocus for mild to moderate memory loss; may cause seizures in patients with a seizure disorder www.nofocus.com/risk

Will 140 characters of information actually help patients or drive business to healthcare-centric companies? Or is the life expectancy of a tweet so finite with so many legal, regulatory and potentially social media blunder risks that companies will say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to another layer of compliance? Or will this new media outlet for pharma and medical companies drive traffic away from Twitter with the addition of more and more sponsored advertising?

These are questions that are yet to be answered, but there might be an effect in terms of the skills that companies look for when hiring marketing, sales and communications professionals in the device industry. These professionals can now add to the ranks of the meager number of professionals that claim they have "micro writing" skills. 

As of June 19, there were exactly 14 people in all of LinkedIn in the entire United States in ALL industries that listed “micro writing” in “Skills and Expertise” on their LinkedIn profiles. A search on the job consolidator site “Indeed.com” didn’t reveal a single job description with the phrase “micro writing” nor did a review of 300,000 medical device resumes.

With the proposed legislation in the comment and review stage, that is going to likely change.

In the medical device, life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, the phrase “micro writing” will be seen in at least as a minor requirement in more and more job descriptions, resumes and professional capability summaries. Once you have the experience complying with the FDA Social Media requirements, it certainly merits a brief mention.

Be the first on your block to add “Micro Writing” to your LinkedIn profile and resume. While it’s a small area in terms of your professional capabilities, the phrase “social media” didn’t come into common use until a decade ago. Who knows? Maybe micro writing will be a new trend – FDA regulation and all.

[Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com user turtleteeth]

- By Paula Rutledge, President of Legacy MedSearch, a global recruitment firm.

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