The FDA has made a clear effort at promoting transparency and engaging consumers more directly with its Transparency Initiative and in putting out requests to get input from the public, such as the recent Part 15 meetings on social media.
But let's face it, the FDA Web site is a monster to navigate and consumers and patients could be easily discouraged from trying. If you want to view Warning Letters, for example, there are different types of Warning Letters posted all over the site under various names and categories. And when the FDA announced the Part 15 meetings and ran the announcement and sign up through regulations.gov, the system did not work properly and sign up to attend the Part 15 meeting was a mess at the beginning. The anemic docket has only a few entries in it and is not terribly user-friendly.
It seems like what the FDA needs is a message platform that engages consumers. Right now, they don't have one.
Facebook is not just about people being in touch with people. Facebook is a message platform.
In fact Facebook is a very handy message platform, and with it, an organization can acquire followers (fans) who are pre-disposed to get messages from you and to send them along in their own networks to other like-minded people via Facebook, Twitter or any other number of social media vehicles. These are people who want your messages and want to carry your water for you.
With a message platform like Facebook, you can niche-cast your message right to people who are key target audiences, rather than broadcast them to the masses or bury them on a behemoth of a Web site. Think about Facebook as a more lithe and nimble web page.
FDA is already using Twitter to direct those people interested in recalls back to the recall page – why not have a Facebook page where specific updates can be posted?
In fact, maybe the FDA should have an FDA Drugs and Biologics Facebook page, an FDA Food Safety Facebook Page, an FDA Devices Facebook page, and an FDA Veterinary Medicine Facebook Page. These could each have subtabs of various categories and fans could follow the news they want to follow out of FDA in a very user-friendly way, not through the cumbersome Web site and RSS feeds that may not be employed by most consumers.
Companies are certainly using Facebook as a component of their own social media strategy. Kodak has over 56,000 fans on its page, and Pepsi has a page with over half a million fans, and then a tab on the page so that people can see the categories in which the company gives grants, among other things. The company uses the Facebook page to seek input and suggestions from consumers. There are tons of other examples out there.
FDA already has twitter feeds and a YouTube channel. FDA would do well to consult with companies like this to get an idea of the person-power that it takes to maintain such a page. It may be a little effort, but it will do a great deal to bring the FDA into the 21st century when it comes to communicating with people. While Web sites are wonderful, comprehensive communications today can no longer rely on the static one-way nature of a Web site, and has to engage social media to be timely and to reach key audiences.
Should FDA have a Facebook page? From a public health point of view, it is vital that FDA find ways to communicate quickly and clearly with its constituencies. It is only a matter of time before Facebook, or some message platform equivalent, is realized as necessary. Better sooner than later.