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Managed Feedback: How Social Media Can Turn Criticism To Advantage

Criticism. It’s an issue that sits front and center in any serious discussion of starting a social media campaign. If we open up our company to invited (and often anonymous) feedback, the argument goes, inevitably someone will say something we don’t like – or even something that could be outright damaging to our company. Why should we open up to that kind of risk?

Every social media marketer faces that issue. And yet, firms around the world are tackling the problem and reaping the rewards. They’re talking with their customers, instead of talking at them. Rather than losing control of their brands, they’re gaining more influence over them. And at the heart of every successful social media campaign is a plan to manage critical feedback.

Few other industries face greater problems over public criticism than pharmaceutical companies and healthcare product suppliers. Soliciting public comments about their products and services opens the risk of the most dreaded words in pharmaceutical marketing: “adverse event reporting”. An adverse event is any customer feedback that describes a negative change in health or a side effect requiring a mandatory report to the federal government. For these firms, negative feedback isn’t merely a public relations challenge – it’s a serious regulatory one as well.

And yet, pharmaceutical firms have boldly moved forward into social media. Why? What made companies like GlaxoSmithKline overcome their adverse events fear and embark on large scale social media campaigns?

They learned that the risks weren’t as great as they thought. In 2008, Nielsen did a study of adverse event reporting in social media. In the United States, adverse event reporting regulations require mandatory reporting when feedback contains four clear pieces of information: an identifiable patient, an identifiable reporter, a specific product involved in the event, and a clear report of an adverse event or fatal outcome.

Analyzing 500 healthcare-related messages on Yahoo message boards, Nielsen discovered that only one of the comments contained all the information necessary to spur a mandatory report. Other studies have since reached similar conclusions. The truth is, the great mass of Internet feedback lacks the specificity and accountability to trigger regulatory problems. The risk just isn’t nearly as high as they once thought – and no reason to fear social media.

Smart comment moderation goes a long way. Successful social media campaigns rely on technologies and online services that combine both effective messaging with sophisticated comment moderation. YouTube, more example, has been instrumental and highly effective for many firms eager to jump into the world of video blogging. Not only does YouTube offer an easy way to project a personable, viral message, it also enables channel owners to carefully review comments before publishing them.

Your social media plan should include a clear definition of what comments are publishable, which ones are not, and how to publicly justify the difference. Will you allow comments about specific products or services? Comments about competitors? Write intelligent rules and then stick to them.

Social media feedback can overcome response bias. A major dilemma in any market research is respondent bias – the undue influence that a focus group environment can have on structured market feedback. Soliciting online feedback via social media expands your available base of useful feedback, and offers your company a complete view of raw consumer intelligence: the good, the bad and the ugly. Companies running successful social media campaigns have all learned that it’s less costly to discover a public relations problem early, than it is to fight one when it gets out of control.

Consumers want to be heard – and will be heard. Healthcare firms have long known that the key to a satisfied, healthy patient is personal involvement – that their consumers have a personal investment in their health process and are active collaborators in their own best outcomes. Your consumers want to be heard, and they want to be a part of your message. Social media lets them.

Pharmaceutical firms have also learned that if they don’t provide their consumers with a place to be heard, they’ll find their own. They’ll simply resort to outlets that are truly beyond the control or influence of your communications team. Would you rather receive feedback on your own media outlet, or have to face a possible firestorm of unbridled attack in a venue where you can’t defend yourself? For pharmaceutical firms like GlaxoSmithKline, the answer was easy and their proactive programs have been very effective as a result.

Social media is here to stay, and criticism is a fact of life. You can’t run from it, or hide from it. You can only embrace it and make it work for you. A smart social media plan empowers your business to do exactly that, while opening new markets and more deeply developing old ones.

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