Between earthquakes, hurricanes and the end of summer when everyone seems away on vacations to the beach, the mountains or somewhere in between, I decided to take a little hiatus for the last two weeks of August. Labor Day behind us, it is time to get back to work.
As communications has rapidly evolved over the past five years, FDA communications have reflected the migration into social media, though at times haltingly. After YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were being used by private industry in general, and even by pioneering pharma companies in particular, the FDA began utilizing these outlets as well – taking baby steps and now pretty much going full stride.
In fact, FDA began the agency’s YouTube channel four years ago today, on September 6, 2007. With over 3900 subscribers, over 100,000 channel views and over 1,000,000 upload views, the agency has a respectable footprint, particularly compared to most pharma companies. The video content runs a range of subject matter and they are organized in different playlists – though the topics are somewhat random. The agency has different audiences than its sister healthcare agency the Centers for Disease Control which also began a YouTube channel called CDCStreamingHealth just a few months before FDA in the Spring of 2007, but is much more consumer facing. The playlists are better topically organized and the viewership and subscriber numbers are far higher. One thing both agencies could do to increase viewership is to tweet the posting of every new video via their respective twitter feeds. Twitter is a traffic driver, among other things. Particularly when a video is going up respecting a public health issue, twitter should send out a link to the video to spread the word and drive traffic back to the video.
Which brings us to Twitter. The FDA was a little late to the game in the micro-blogging game but has jumped in with both feet. In fact, the agency has so many that the @EyeonFDA twitter feed has compiled a list that reflects only what the FDA is tweeting among its various feeds at any given time. There are feeds now about recalls, from CBER, from CDER and from the Office of Women’s Health – and in all there are 10 FDA Twitter feeds by my last count. They vary greatly in terms of activity and following. Federal agencies may be shy for legal reasons about re-tweeting, but it is rare to see FDA re-tweet and rare to see the use of a hashtag. The former is part of the social part of social media, demonstrating that one is participating, not just talking to people via this medium. But the latter, in particular, sends information out that allows it to be more effectively tracked by others as it is now categorized. Hashtagging can bring you to the attention of new audiences following an issue – who then decide to follow you.
FDA also has a Facebook page. On this front, the agency was relatively late to the game, but they have developed a respectable following with over 13,000 “Likes” and have utilized the page to buttress messages sent out about recalls or warnings via press release. The agency also has developed a solid comments policy.
The very premise of social media is to make material that can be easily shared. A tweet can be re-tweeted, a YouTube video embedded. The agency should consider additional strategies for sharing. For example, during a public health alert, they agency may want to utilize a multi-media news release that contains embeddable video, a podcast, photos and other digital assets that could be shared – as well as icons to allow the material to be shared via an assortment of social media. But short of the multi-media release, every press release should contain a sharing icon that allows the headline and/or content to be posted with a mere click. CDC provides a “share” icon on that agency’s releases that allows a reader to share via several means. FDA should consider the same.
Overall, FDA’s use of social media is ok, though there is lots of room for improvement to optimize the agency’s reach and effectiveness. Now in addition to using social media, wouldn’t it be great if we could get the agency to issue timely guidelines on its use for the industry it regulates…..