Weeding out unsavory, “offensive,” or spammy comments is a fact of social media life that has to be dealt with. In general, pharmaceutical companies avoid dealing with comments on social media sites like Facebook and Youtube, although a few do allow them and deal with them via “moderation.”

Recently, I learned about a Social Media Toolkit for Patient Associations published in October, 2012, by Janssen in Belgium.  Here’s what that toolkit says about moderation:

Comments from members of your network build credibility and a sense of community. However, while generally rare [my emphasis], comments may be inappropriate or irrelevant, or reflect negatively on an individual, and require some form of moderation. The moderation process should be objective and impartial and avoid the perception that comments are unethically censored.
Some social media sites do not allow comments to be moderated before being published so a dedicated resource for checking social media sites daily may be necessary. It is advisable to engage settings to review and approve comments before they are published, if available. This allows timely response to comments, deletion of spam and blocking of serial pests. If moderating comments, be upfront and include a notice on the site which encourages participation and a diversity of views, requests that comments are constructive and notifies the community that the organisation reserves the right to moderate.

In addition, Janssen in Belgium recognizes that social media requires a commitment of time and resources.

“Establishing a normal pattern of use will take time and will differ across organisations. Realistically, it will be more than a few minutes per day, and, depending on your organisation’s objectives, could take 20 minutes or a couple of hours per day if you are trying to encourage participation and activity. It may not be possible to manage replying to all conversation threads and comments. If this is the case, reply to themes, incorporating responses to similar posts in a general summary response. Direct messages and questions should be addressed individually and promptly, which requires time.”

Yet, other Janssen affiliates have not followed this advice.

Around the same time that Janssen in Belgium was writing the Social Media Toolkit for patients, Janssen in the UK shut down its Psoriasis 360 Facebook page because of its inability to commit resources to review 284 comments that were submitted over the course of 18 months; less than 1 per day! (read “Janssen to Shut Down Psoriasis 360 FaceBook Page Due to Lack of Commitment“).

Janssen Belgium recommends that patient organizations “not ignore difficult questions or negative comments” but consider them “as an opportunity to respectfully engage with the commenter to sensitively persuade a transition in their opinion.”

Some pharma companies follow this advice as long as it does not involve comments about specific products – either the company’s products or competitors’ products. Legal and regulatory issues inhibit pharma from having product-specific conversations on social media. Janssen UK claimed that a majority of posts it removed from its Psoriasis 360 Facebook page mentioned prescription-only medicines. I feel Janssen’s pain, but shouldn’t Janssen have followed Janssen’s advice it gives patients: “If a negative comment is not constructive, remove it and inform the commenter why it was removed”?