PatientView studies indicate that in terms of reputation, the pharmaceutical industry occupied, in 2012, the seventh position among the eight health sectors that were studied. Patients highlight as the main negative aspects of the sector the lack of fair price policies, lack of transparency, management of negative news -or crisis management- and integrity. Let’s focus on the practice of transparency by the pharmaceutical companies and the opportunities and risks of media and social networks on the internet.
There are good news and bad news about media and social networks. The bad news is that the social web and its different platforms are new means of communication that don’t make things easier for the industry when it comes to reputation, since they broaden the array of information that is contrary to the interests of the industry, they make easier the spreading of negative news, or, which is the same thing, rumors, and orchestrated campaigns.
The good news is that the pharmaceutical industry can use digital communications within a strategy of transparency increase. Transparency, in the corporate environment, can be defined as the capacity that an organization has to share its information, not hiding them from their interest groups. It’s something difficult to put into practice because every business has its confidential and sensitive information, and many times due to legal matters and other strategic issues, it’s not possible nor desirable to offer too much transparency.
Companies in the sector, for instance, have patents, they do scientific research, they have competitive strategies, they move in a highly regulated market, and so on. What they don’t lack is sensitive topics by which they prefer -or don’t prefer- to divulge information. However, the very nature of their activities -that is, the quest for solutions to improve human health- place them in the center of society’s attentions, which means, they are obligated, in one way or another, to be transparent.
So we find ourselves facing a dilemma, brilliantly defined as the dichotomy of control and credibility by Richard Edelman, one of the most important experts in public relations in the world: More control, less credibility. More credibility, less control -of their image, for instance-.
In this case, knowing the risks in the world of the social networks, if companies can use the internet to their benefit, it’s necessary to implement a robust model of reputation management to make the actions of transparency increase generate positive results. Said online reputation management model can offer deciders of companies a safe guideline to incur into social networks and media, since it contemplates practically every relevant point for managing online reputation, from the definition of a strategy, until diverse tactical plans, always with the presence of monitoring actions of whatever gets said and occurs on the internet.
Risk management is something which is very present in this model. Every action that leads to generating reputation must be analyzed from the perspective of risk and the preoccupation for the quality of the message, something which is already very common in the industry, of course, but with the Internet, it’s even more important.
Finally, the model also contemplates how to act in crisis situations. From the paradigmatic crisis of Tylenol in the 1980’s, up until the avian flu crisis, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most exposed ones to crises, and it’s cases are exemplary in this field. By opening up channels in social media and participating in the conversation, the industry must also organize its internal resources to adequately deal with eventual online reputation crises.
Online reputation crises can be defined as an event in the field of interactions and internet communications that have the capacity of exerting pressure and significant damages to people, organizations, and governments. To expand this a little more, online crises are the result of a bad management of stakeholder’s expectations, in or out of the online world, whose negative repercussions are created or amplified within the internet, which would result in a reputational crisis that can be analyzed as follows.
What are the keys of an online reputation crisis plan?
- Prevention. Have well-trained teams, procedures, crisis manuals, avoid incidentals.
- Quick replies. Act rapidly, but also with consistency to avoid the viral dissemination of rumors and orchestrated campaigns.
- Monitoring. Identify the dynamic of dissemination of the topics, influence agents and main topics of the conversation, to be able to feedback to the plan of responses with updates of the digital context.
One of the most important aspects -and an often-overlooked one- when it comes to managing crises is the one that has to do with the training of the people who act directly or indirectly in relation to the subject. And we’re not talking about the theory, but the practice, which cannot be stopped when we speak about education in crises management.