A Different Twitter Proposal

I've been thinking further about the FDA social media guidances delivered this week and especially the "Twitter" guidance, which isn't just about Twitter, but which does have significant implications for brand communications on Twitter.

What if the FDA had proposed a different framework?

Here's the FDA's sample compliant Tweet:
NoFocus (rememberine HCl) for mild to moderate memory loss-May cause seizures in patients with a seizure disorder www.nofocus.com/risk 
This Tweet takes up 134 of the 140 characters available on Twitter. It includes
  • Brand name (NoFocus--7 characters)
  • Established name (rememberine HCl--17 characters including space and parentheses)
  • Link to risk that includes both brand name & indication that risks are presented (www.nofocus.com/risk--20 characters)
  • A hyphen to separate benefit from risk info (1 character)
These are the mandatory elements of the Tweet, and they take up 43 characters with the balance available for communicating both the most serious risks and a non-misleading indication statement.*

Of course, the exact length of the brand and established names will change the number of characters that are set aside for accommodating the FDA's proposed mandatory elements. 

One challenge is that almost no brands will be able to provide a non-misleading indication statement and all of the most serious risks** in the space that's available after meeting FDA's mandatory elements. 

Another challenge is that although the FDA might not object to the sample Tweet they provided, users of Twitters certainly would object. Their objection wouldn't be to the regulatory compliance of the Tweet. Their objection would be to its value, as in, it has none. While such a Tweet might occasionally be useful for some products, and perhaps be a promoted Tweet on occasion, not many people would be inclined to follow an account peppered with this type of content.

The sample Tweet provided by the FDA is analogous to someone going on Twitter and saying, "I'm great. Read more about me here." And although some people do in fact use Twitter to do that, people who primarily send out such communications are rarely successful. Instead, communications need to meet the needs of the other users of Twitter, who might be looking for information about a product, news, etc. 

Responding to such information seeking behavior and providing customer service are two of the best uses of Twitter by companies (not just pharmaceutical companies), and it is not unreasonable to believe that most of these needs can be fulfilled without providing any benefit information about the product. So, if, for example, I want to know how to sign up for a co-pay program for your brand, just getting a reminder-style Tweet with a link to the co-pay program link can be very useful. Some companies are already engaging in this type of activity.

That's one reason that it was so disappointing that the guidance didn't address reminder ad formats.

However, on occasion, there might be a need to include benefit information, and when that happens, the format set forth in this guidance is greatly limiting and not likely to be accessible to most brands. So, instead, I was considering a format along the following lines:

The brand name would be presented in the Twitter handle, not the body of the Tweet itself. The Twitter handle has a 15-character limitation, and limited risk information could be presented in the Tweet in a manner that makes clear that additional risk info is available at the destination URL.

Modifying the FDA's Tweet to meet this proposal would yield this sample Tweet:
For mild to moderate memory loss-Risks incl seizures in some ppl bit.ly/isi
Assuming this Tweet was sent from @NoFocus, let's see how that Tweet compares to FDA's format.

Because both the brand name and the generic are omitted from the Tweet itself, that eliminates 25 characters from the Tweet that were taken up by those two elements plus the space between them. I expanded from the hyphen to include the phrase "Risks incl" so that's a growth from one character to 11, but I did that both to provide explanation for users about what the next few characters were going to present as well as to set up the expectation that the link that is provided will have further risk information. It is extremely common on Twitter to abbreviate the word "include" with "incl" so that is likely to be understood by most users of the platform.

Then, I made use of a URL shortener (bit.ly) and a common abbreviation for the page name (isi) where the risk information is provided. This meets the FDA's criterion for the URL that it not be promotional in content or tone, and because I preceded it with the phrase "Risks incl" users expect to find product risks presented at that page, which the FDA accomplished in its example by including the product name and word "risk" in the URL itself.

The phrase "Risks incl" also accomplishes the goal of clearly communicating within the Tweet itself that the brand is NOT providing all of the risks associated with the product within the Tweet itself. So, users are alerted that there are other risks to the product and they can learn more by clicking on the link. 

The revised Tweet is only 75 characters with 21 characters devoted to providing mandatory risk information, not including the risk statement itself which would vary by brand:
  • The phrase "-Risks incl" (11 characters)
  • A shorter url linking to the risk information (bit.ly/isi--10 characters)
And in that case, I would be able to provide additional links or other information such as directing this Tweet to another user. Imagine the following exchange:***
@phillycooke: My father was prescribed Brandufate by his doctor. What does Brandufate do?
@Brandufate: @phillycooke It's for mild to moderate memory loss-Risks incl seizures in some ppl bit.ly/isi
In the conversation, I have now presumably provided some value to the person who was looking for information about my product, while meeting almost all of the FDA's requirement.

I write "almost all" because I didn't include the generic/established name in this example. My belief is that in this type of space-limited context, it would be better for the FDA to permit that the established name be provided via the landing page with the risk information, not in the Tweet itself. I believe that meets the needs of users better and also provides extremely valuable characters for communication in the Tweets themselves.

The FDA's guidance explicitly points out that it is not addressing the landing pages, home pages for brands on Twitter, etc.. It is worth noting, though, that a brand's participation on Twitter is not limited to the Tweets it sends, but also includes the brand's home page, description, and a Twitter icon. These other locations provide what I believe are more appropriate locations for presenting the full brand and generic names in compliance with all of the FDA requirements for presenting the established name.

And because Twitter has a verification service available, it would be possible for users to understand via the blue checkmark icon that the account providing them information is an official representation of the brand, who is subjected to FDA regulatory oversight and therefore meets a higher standard for accuracy.

I'd love to get some additional feedback on this proposal, so post your comments, send me your emails, and let me know.

* Keep in mind that the FDA is saying that both of these elements are required. It is not OK to omit either the risk or the indication statement.

** And the guidance is unambiguous about the need to include ALL of the most serious risks. Quoting from the guidance
At a minimum, a firm should communicate the most serious risks associated with the product together with the benefit information within the individual character-space-limited communication. For a prescription human drug, the most serious risks would generally include all risk concepts from a boxed warning, all risks that are known to be fatal or life-threatening, and all contraindications from the approved product labeling (the PI). (p. 9)

*** For my modified Tweet, I'm changing the brand name because @NoFocus actually exists on Twitter as a user. I created an account for @Brandufate for demonstration purposes. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm thinking a more compliant analogy would be "I'm great (homo sapien), though infrequently spontaneously murderous. Read more about me here." ;-)