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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Using Social Media in a Crisis: Distribute a Product Safety Widget Is One Idea

The "Social Media During a Crisis" roundtable discussion lead by Deborah Sittig (@GreenRoomMedia), Partner at Green Room Public Relations, was one of the most interesting events for me at ExL Pharma's 6th Annual Public Relations & Communications Summit. The question posed for discussion was "How can digital communications be utilized to best support patient safety during a crisis situation."

Also of importance was how to best protect the company's image during a crisis.

Needless to say, Sanofi-Aventis and Johnson & Johnson were the two most discussed case studies during the roundtable (see "Disgruntled Patient Shuts Down sanofi-aventis Facebook Page" and "Despite Its Social Media Expertise, J&J Fails to Use It Effectively to Communicate to Consumers").

Here's Sittig's summary of the discussion, which she is presenting right now at the conference:

Key Learnings:
Anticipation and preparation are critical
  • No such thing as a “social media crisis plan”; social media should be incorporated as part of a larger crisis plan
  • Create social media infrastructure (dark sites) in advance; have a plan in place so when a crisis happens, you are prepared
Relationships rule
  • The right time to start blogger relations is now; waiting until after a crisis is too late and will make it more difficult
    • Involve bloggers in identifying potential issues and developing a plan
    • Bloggers will report on the facts in real time; treat them as you would a top-tier journalist
Own your space
  • Familiarize yourself with all third party groups’ social media capabilities and cultivate relationships
    • Consider credibility of third party relationships; many times their word is more credible than yours
  • Corporate blogs are a great way to consolidate crisis communications, reach a global audience and minimize rumors/speculation
    • Do not expect readers to “find” your blog but consider widgets and RSS feeds to maximize reach
  • “Own” the conversation; create hash tags; plan before the big moment
    • Compliment traditional news (ex. Press conferences) with a social media element (ex. Tweet during the press conference, engage in conversation)
My contribution was the idea of involving bloggers (like me) when developing your crisis scenario planning and deftly using widgets and RSS feeds to bring readers to your voice rather than relying on the "build it and they will come" strategy. There are plenty of stakeholders such as physician societies, online communities, patient blogs, etc. that would post a pharma company's widget on their sites -- especially if it was devoted to product recalls and drug safety information.

Not too long ago, Fabio Gratton (@skypen) proposed a similar kind of widget that pharma companies could sponsor that allowed patients to easily report adverse events to the FDA (see here).

If the goal of crisis management is to support patient safety and if the time to start managing a crisis is BEFORE it happens, then pharma needs to be more creative in pushing safety information -- even if it is bad news for their products -- out to stakeholders.  A drug safety widget is just one simple idea.

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