Pharma’s Shining Facebook Star


Malevolent, destructive, atrocious, money-hungry, child murderers, cure suppressors, evil cartels, fraudsters, criminals, sub-human scum….

These are just some of the descriptors of the pharma industry and its ‘brainwashed’ employees, as you trawl across various blogs and online forums.

OK, I have focused on the negative, but it is the fear of these negative adjectives, that often prevents pharma companies allowing public comments on their sites and engaging in social media.

It is not actually a fear of regulations.  These adjectives could legitimately appear on a pharma owned site, without any regulatory or legal issues.

It is just they are not very nice, so why would pharma want them posted on their online property?

If these, less than appealing, sentiments appear on sites not owned by a pharmaceutical company, they can simply bury their collective heads in the social media quick sand and pretend they don’t exist.

One company that has an interesting and forward-thinking approach to negative commentary, is GSK.  They have a corporate FaceBook page and are pretty laissez-faire in terms of what can be posted (as long as it does not breach healthcare regulations)

I was speaking at a congress in the summer, highlighting the GSK Facebook page, which was taking a verbal assault at the time.

GSK had posted a link highlighting the need to ensure access to medicines for all children, regardless of 1st,2nd or 3rd world status.  A pretty reasonable aspiration you may think, well here are some of the negative comments that fed through to their page.

That is fairly strong language to allow on your own site.  It is interesting over 3 months later and the above comments are still resident in the GSK space.

The abuse went on, turning even nastier…

After a recent review I could not find the ‘M Kumar’ comment.  It may have been deleted, the user retracted it (maybe unlikely) or I somehow missed it.

If it was deleted by GSK, I don’t know the why, maybe a legal reason or the fact it was more vitriolic than most.   It may have been too much, even for GSKs Social Media liberal stomach.

Actually with the amount of positive news on the FaceBook page, they need not have worried.

GSK are so effective at posting new content (either daily or several times a week) this toxic post would have been buried, like a virtual ‘dirty fish & chip wrapper’ under the torrent of significant ‘new news’ and positive comments.

Positive comments you may ask?! Well yes things got better…

In fact the above comments are a one sided selection, at the time GSK also had many defenders, most either current or past employees.

The summer followed with GSK leveraging its Olympic Sponsorship to surf on a wave of public goodwill.  The vast majority of comments were positive, both to the Team GB Olympians and GSK.

There were a few cynics (one responding to a GSK post on Team GB Bronze Medal Gymnast – Beth Tweddle, one of the anti-doping ambassadors)

GSK elected to respond selectively to negative comments, they tended to ignore those who just wanted to attack.  The example below shows some advice offered to a ‘negative commentator’ (or in more human language a ‘frustrated patient’)

GSK also have responded to comments on the thorny subject of animal testing meaning they can put the GSK & wider industry point of view, across to the public.

Recently comments have been largely positive.

The key take home message is that if you cultivate a positive & supportive community, it can overcome negative online comments and outright attacks.

Actually having a mix of detractors and defenders, with suitable & timely responses from the company intermingled, gives a more realistic view and actually allows the company to show its human face.  It shows a company proud of what it does and prepared to embrace opinion from all sides of the argument.

If all negative comments were to be deleted, this would be weaker, showing a Stalinistic veneer of positivity.  A corporate machine tries to mask criticism, human beings channel it, and where appropriate respond.

Note that a 2011 survey shows GSK’s reputation is improving, while the Pharma Industry’s is falling.  GSK’s approach to online engagement can surely only enhance that standing.

Not having spoken to GSK about this project, I don’t know what their objectives were.  I would speculate they were indeed around building trust and engagement, and that GSK are probably happy with the results.

Individual Pharma companies have to decide, if there is indeed, a business case for social media engagement.

If there is, then the required action, is to be brave and go for it. As GSK have demonstrated, with the right planning and approach, there is nothing to be scared of.

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