Risk & Benefit Compliance in a 140-Character World

After issuing guidance on several aspects of social media in the past weeks and months, the FDA recently made two additional announcements that will impact the way brands go to market digitally. The first covers risk disclosures on character-restricted sites such as Google and Twitter. The second relates to corrections on third-party informational sites. Although all of the FDA’s social media guidelines are expected to evolve over time, this latest announcement provides additional clarity on how to participate in the ever-growing conversation online while remaining in compliance.

Character-Limited Sites

The FDA’s position on sites that possess character limits is fairly straightforward: Regardless of the platform, benefit claims in product promotions must be balanced with proper risk information. If striking the proper balance is not possible, the brand should not use that method of communication. The FDA understands that there will be challenges with this approach, and suggested that when full disclosure is not possible, the brand should mention the most serious risk associated with the product together with the benefit information. The example they use is for paid search and shows how the ad copy can be leveraged to provide the proper balance. 


For Twitter, they provide the below example. In this instance the benefit is brief and the risk information has more characters dedicated to it. 


There is no question that social media engagement has been and will continue to be a challenge for brands. Rosetta recommends that brands: 

  • Be cautious, but get involved – The guidance provided by the FDA enables a level of clarity that has not been available in the past. Patients and health care professionals are using these sites when making health-related decisions, so participating in the conversation and showing ads for targeted search terms are necessary activities in today’s digital world. 
  • Remember that the advertiser has no control of which links appear or the order in which they appear. Once submitted by the advertiser, content appears at the discretion of the search engine.
  • Continue to separate out brand vs. non-brand ad copy to avoid the risk of the search engine showing only risks or benefits.
  • Create a detailed quality assurance process – Despite best efforts, mistakes may still happen. Having a process in place that includes audits of all ad copy and tweets will enable mistakes to be caught proactively and quickly corrected, limiting the potential risk.

Third-Party Content Corrections

The FDA’s second new guideline relates to third-party content corrections. The FDA recognizes that users will write online about treatments, but that this information may not always be accurate and could even be “dangerous or harmful to the public health.” Under the new guidance, when a brand becomes aware of misleading or inaccurate user-generated content, it must make an effort to correct that information. A company representative can post a correction in the comments section or request that the site owner update the content, but either way, it must be clear that the correction is coming from the company. If the site owner takes no action, the FDA will not hold the firm responsible.


For this guidance, the recommendation is fairly simple and straightforward: Have a social-listening and content-monitoring process that actively seeks out misinformation. If misrepresentations are found, attempt to correct them and document your efforts.

The FDA will continue to refine digital content and social media guidelines as this space evolves. As health care marketers grapple with the best way to deploy marketing resources, digital should continue to be a high priority. With more and more patients and health care professionals leveraging social media for their information, having a strong, accurate and compliant presence will be increasingly important. 

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