Social Media

  • The Risk of Being Social in a Regulated Industry

    In Social Media on

    For most of us in the public relations field, the advent and proliferation of social media was something for which we had long yearned. To have such openness and accessibility to information and voices was a foundational tenet of the public relations industry. We all took to social media in dog-to-bone fashion, and, in no time, PR professionals were among the new social media gurus defining the category and creating social mores along the way.

    However, in certain risk-adverse business sectors like the life science industry, which includes biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical devices, PR pros walk a narrow and precarious bridge when suggesting social media to clients. When offering companies the opportunity to dip a toe in social media, PR folks are confronted with the yin and yang of the business.

    Drug developers are guided by the rules and regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and to do otherwise would be folly. Hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in ongoing clinical programs and from pre-clinical to drug approval, companies wage an ongoing battle of trying to offset risk while developing potentially game-changing medicines. To run contrary though of regulatory and compliance groups is to invite various levels of disaster.

    This continuous internal conflict within the industry contributes to the uncertainty that surrounds a global embracing of social media. Coupled to this, the FDA offers little guidance that directs the industry, adding to the conflict.

    With the intended audience (or the patients) of these life science businesses living on social media, most PR pros in the industry feel they should jump on the social media bandwagon. A number of life science companies have in fact incorporated social media into their PR programs, but they did so without fully understanding all of the risks, and their effort is lacking or poorly executed.

    Plus, having an enterprise-wide social program means that you must get buy-in from a number of departments all of whom have differing views of the associated risk and reward with moving beyond the company firewall. Imagine the discussion you would have between the head of corporate communications and a company’s chief legal counsel. It’s no wonder that many companies have failed to move beyond the inevitable stalemate.

    A good place to begin getting this company-wide buy-in is by understanding and identifying each department’s risk and their tolerance to social media’s potential impact. I suspect the folks in legal would have some concerns about company responses in social forums like Facebook or Twitter. The marketing department and external sales force might also have some qualms about reporting a drug program’s failure or adverse patient event via social media. These are just a few of the concerns that might arise and for which you need to implement some necessary forethought.

    Social media is inherently risky and there is an element of walking the tightrope without the safety net below to protect you if you fall. A company needs to plan for and against that risk. Whether it’s in the confines of a drug lab or in the Twitter sphere, the course of a business day is never normal or routine. The popular notion these days for joining the ranks of social media is “being part of the conversation.” Risky? Yes, but with a well-thought out plan and the foresight of weighing all of the risks company wide PR pros can minimize these risks. Then it’s a matter of weighing the risk of being left out of these social media conversations.

    Post Author

    Blog-author_kidwell

    Paul Kidwell is principal at Kidwell PR. He has 17 years of public relations experience in the biopharmaceutical sector. He can be reached at paulkidwell@comcast.net.