Background: As of March 2015, Facebook has 936 million active daily users and 798 million active daily mobile users worldwide. With such a large customer base, Facebook presents a significant opportunity for federal agencies to further their missions. In October 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took this opportunity and launched its official Facebook page. Facebook is a fast-pace communications platform with the potential for mistruths, rumors, and speculation. An Agency needs to be proactive to curtail negative comments, correct mistruths, and reinforce the message that it is engaged and committed to users. Unfortunately the FDA had minimal engagement with the public on its Facebook page for over two years since its launch.
Program background: FDA’s Division of Drug Information (DDI) within the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) serves as the focal point for providing timely, accurate, and useful information on CDER initiatives and CDER regulated products. DDI responds to over 80,000 phone calls, emails and letters each year. Responding to comments related to CDER initiatives and CDER regulated products on FDA’s Facebook page was a natural extension of DDI’s existing operations. To evaluate the impact of initiating engagement with stakeholders on a federal agency owned Facebook page, DDI conducted a ninety day pilot.
Evaluation Methods and Results: During the pilot, DDI monitored and moderated all comments received on the Facebook page to discern which comments warranted a response. Once identified as a comment warranting a response, DDI was required to reply within two business days. Impact was measured by comparing the average number of likes, shares, and reach for Facebook posts before and after the pilot. Additional metrics collected include the number of DDI responses provided to stakeholders’ comments and the number of DDI responses provided on time (within two business days). Prior to the start of the pilot, FDA Facebook posts each received on average 103.2 likes and 47.7 shares. Each post also reached on average 12,596 individuals. During the pilot, DDI Facebook posts each received on average 566.3 likes and 177.9 shares. Each DDI post also reached on average 36,177.7 individuals. During the pilot, DDI pharmacists provided a total of 121 responses and 100% were provided on time.
Conclusions: Initiating social engagement had a significant positive impact on FDA’s Facebook page. In addition to the increased number of likes and individuals reached per post, social engagement also offers the Agency an opportunity to educate the public to better understand its work and actions.
Implications for research and/or practice: With the success of the pilot, social engagement is now a viable and institutionalized initiative on FDA’s Facebook page. Federal agencies not engaged with their stakeholders on Facebook should consider implementing a similar pilot. For future studies, DDI plans to evaluate the sentiment of comments received on FDA’s Facebook page to better understand the public’s response to CDER messages and initiatives.