NEW YORK: Sanofi, the pharma giant, is enhancing its use of social media in the US, an area where healthcare companies have generally proved hesitant due to regulatory uncertainty.

The firm established a presence on Facbook and Twitter for patients suffering with diabetes two years ago, and has since attracted around 4,000 followers on both of these platforms.

"Treatment is an important aspect to blood sugar management, but it isn't the only aspect," Laura Kolodjeski, Sanofi's diabetes community manager, told Fast Company. "There is a huge community of people already that live with diabetes and are connecting and sharing to improve each other's experience with the disease."

Alongside third party sites, Sanofi launched its own forum, DiscussDiabetes, in 2011. To ensure posts about its products are balanced and accurate – and meet legal requirements – Sanofi carefully moderates comments before they go live.

Such efforts have been augmented by the stories of "A1C Champions", named after the test for checking blood sugar levels, and showing how people achieve success in this area.

Its "Diabetepedia" also offers an easy-to-understand guide to the terminology linked with this condition, drawing on the suggestions of users. Most recently, Sanofi launched The DX, a site pulling together all of its content, and containing tips, polls and blogs.

"We really allowed the community to help identify what might be useful to them and where they might go next," said Kolodjeski.

In further evidence of this, the firm asked its social media audience to submit ideas for the Data Design Diabetes Innovation Challenge, an event where businesses and charities demonstrate how leveraging big data could help diabetes sufferers.

Moreover, Sanofi rolled out iBGStar, a device which tracks blood glucose levels and can be connected to iPhones or iPods. These results can be shared with other consumers or healthcare providers.

"It's a big hit with the online community," Kolodjeski said. "It's also given us a great opportunity to prove back to them that if we hear someone comment about something, we have the ability to engage in a public manner."

Elsewhere, Novo Nordisk, another company focusing on diabetes care, has sponsored Charlie Kimball, a diabetic IndyCar driver, to tweet using the hashtag @racewithinsulin, while Pfizer runs the ThinkScienceNow blog to offer informal insights.

However, pharma manufacturers have been reticent to embrace social media because the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory body, has only issued draft guidelines in this area. Even these provisional remarks encouraged caution.

"We are working on the area and it's something we feel is important but we don't have a specific timeline right now," Ernest Voyard, senior regulatory council at the FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, said.

Data sourced from Fast Company; additional content by Warc staff