It’s taken a while, but the pharmaceutical industry has slowly realized the value of social media to reach caregivers, health care professionals, and patients to raise awareness and even track adverse events. According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, only half of the 50 largest pharmaceutical companies worldwide use social media, and only 10 are on the Big Three: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
But patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals are, and they’re posting about everything from what they need to, questions and adverse events. Placeholder pages aren’t going to cut it in this world where those affected are quick to complain and slow to retract. For pharmaceutical companies, that means taking cautious steps when social media becomes a petri dish for a full-blown PR crisis. As a regulated industry, pharmaceuticals especially need to be prepared for a possible social media crisis. Here are a few precautions pharmaceuticals should take.
Re-evaluate – or even stop – scheduled posts.
Schedules are great when everything is going smoothly. But during a crisis, what may seem perfectly innocuous in any other context could further ruffle feathers. In crisis management mode, stopping all scheduled posts, on every channel, can help you refocus the message, as can pulling the plug on paid social promotions. This is the time to make sure your message is being seen, undiluted.
Only after you’ve got a handle on the crisis can you resume social media scheduling, but you’ll want to make sure anything being posted is unlikely to throw gas on smoking embers (and when dealing with humans, they are easily reignited). And certainly watch any new posts until you’re completely sure the crisis is over, even involving the legal team as necessary to ensure new posts don’t create additional liability.
Take a time-out.
While a time-out won’t work in the OR, it can work wonders in the midst of a crisis. When you need to buy some time to work on the company’s response, use a “pause post.” Basically, the pause post will be tailored to the situation and the person and make it clear that you hear and acknowledge the issue, you’re working on a response, and you’ll have an update at [insert date and time here] on [your site].
While this can be difficult if discontent has spread virally over social media, it’s still worth it – just don’t post the same response to everyone.
Pick your battles – and your battlefield.
Sometimes, just one person is stirring the pot, and there’s a way to nip it in the bud: get that person on the phone, preferably employing the most compassionate person you have on staff (if the person who calls the irate party is rude and argumentative, the situation will deteriorate very quickly). Listen to that angry person; just simply ask what happened. Take notes, recap your understanding to that person, and then make sure you’re following through. Address the issue and provide the person with a resolution, not just an apology.
But if the problem has spread, you’ll have to herd the cats, so to speak, and get everyone on the same platform to open up a dialogue. The company blog is an ideal place to get everyone off social media and into a single spot. It’s easy to share with a link and allows for a longer response.
Write a well-thought out response.
In pharmaceuticals, there’s no easy way to respond to a crisis. But as with other brands, there are ways to successfully respond and diffuse a bad situation.
First, answer the question head-on and own the problem. Acknowledge that there’s a problem; avoid “we’re sorry you feel that way” at all costs. Then, unless there is a critical factual error, don’t start explaining. Just acknowledge, take responsibility, and apologize. Acknowledge the experience, and keep the brand human – convey humility in your response, and make sure it reads like a human wrote it. Get the resident Devil’s advocate on your team to read the response and ask for the snarkiest reply possible – that may transform the message altogether.
And this can’t be said enough: make sure you run the response through legal, indicating that this is a rush job, to avoid any liability in the future.
Stay on the ball – don’t drop it.
Managing the crisis doesn’t stop at posting a response. It’s important to follow up, monitoring social media channels and answering questions as they arise – and they will arise. Make sure that the link to the central discussion is easily accessible as well.
In pharma, it’s also very likely that the media will jump on a crisis, and the PR and legal teams will be key in ensuring the right message gets to the press. Keep track of industry articles, bloggers, and more, and make sure that if an outlet publishes incorrect coverage, someone is able to reach out to provide correct information. As bloggers post, reach out directly to them to thank them.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to let the public know that the company is learning from the experience. It will turn the crisis from “evil pharmaceutical company” to “compassionate pharmaceutical company” much faster.