As Debates Rage Over Health And Science, Digital Preparation Is Vital

by , Mar 2, 2012, 7:17 AM
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Health and science were in the news a lot in the past few weeks. And it wasn’t because of a new breakthrough treatment or a new research approach that could save the lives of millions. Those things happened, but they had a hard time cutting through the noise while several political stories emerged around topics involving women’s health that generated swift, intense debate and outrage through social media channels and highlighted the shortcomings of many to properly handle debates in the digital space.

The first explosive story started Jan. 31, the day the Susan G. Komen foundation did not renew a grant to Planned Parenthood to fund breast exams. Komen cited a new policy that it said prevents it from giving to any organization that is under investigation, while opponents of the move claimed that those involved were doing so strictly out of an opposition to abortion, which the Komen money has never funded.

I watched this story explode on Twitter, in real time, as people around the world were weighing in. What I didn’t see was any Twitter response on the @komenforthecure account until the next day. Within a week, top executives at the organization were gone, founder Nancy Brinker apologized, and the group said it will preserve Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for future grants.

Fast-forward a couple weeks. In Virginia, a bill that would have required women to undergo an invasive ultrasound before having an abortion failed largely for the same reasons that Komen’s move against Planned Parenthood did. After social media users helped fuel a backlash that ultimately resulted in a modification of the bill, the proponents of the bill found themselves forced to backtrack.

It’s not just those who oppose abortion who are finding themselves needing to brace for a debate. Researchers are finding themselves on the defensive more and more frequently.

Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, admitted to The Guardian that a growing anti-science movement now has her “scared to death.”

"We are sliding back into a dark era," she told The Guardian. "And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms."

All of this raises questions for health marketers:

  • How prepared are you to activate and empower your audience to shape a debate in the event your area of focus finds itself in the middle of controversy?

  • Do you have assigned representatives who are on call to quickly respond via Twitter and Facebook within an hour of a controversy? Do they have a playbook with which they can refer to? Do these people have the cell phone numbers of the highest-level executives in the event they need to respond aggressively?

  • Is your digital presence empowered with tools that enable the audience to contribute first-person takes on why your drug, service or research is vital and has an impact on the lives of everyday people?

  • Could someone with the best understanding of the science behind the endeavor collaborate with a talented designer or video editor to help tell the story of why this is so important? If this were to happen, is your marketing team equipped and empowered to leverage the likes of Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook to spread this easily-digestible knowledge?

The speed with which the debate and the fallout happened with some of these stories was breathtaking. It reminded me of the value of things like preparation, creativity, clarity and responsiveness and how they can play a major role in helping healthcare and research organizations shape dialogue in their favor, or at the very least, help serve as a buffer to backlash.

2 comments on "As Debates Rage Over Health And Science, Digital Preparation Is Vital".

  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: March 2, 2012 at 12:30 p.m.
    Funny how all of those anti-s are so adamant when presented with a medical condition to use all of the science and health treatments and more to improve their situations. It wasn't a magic wand that allowed medical professionals to be able to do as much as they can and go forth with improvements.
  2. T Y from Freelance Producer / DP
    commented on: March 2, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.
    I know the column was on "marketing" but I still hope that words like "accurately" or "truthfully" or "science-based" would make it into the discussion on how to respond not just the "activate your audience to shape a debate". The Komen Foundation issue was not on their slow response to the public outcry, it was their initial actions. Perhaps if they had used "marketing" to understand their main audience of people concerned about breast cancer and had not been driven by the ideological agenda of their president and the vp of lobbying there would not have been any issue at all. Frankly, I find the slide into the science dark ages a very frightening thought.

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