Establish Your Social Media Risk Quotient

There is an odd balancing act when it comes to risk tolerance at pharmaceutical companies. On the one hand, the industry is incredibly risk averse. Whether it's because of the heavy regulations, steep consequences or the overall culture, most pharma companies avoid and mitigate risk at all costs. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry is based on a series of large bets in the clinical research pipeline. These are bets that would make any poker shark fold without hesitation.

It is this balancing act that contributes to some of the difficulties in getting pharmaceutical social media programs off the ground. Many companies lack a solid grasp of exactly what their risk quotient is when it comes to social media. And to complicate matters, a successful social media strategy needs to incorporate stakeholders from several functional areas, including: legal, regulatory, safety, IT, marketing and PR. It's likely that your legal team is going to have a different tolerance for risk than your marketing team.



You can see the obvious source of conflict here -- when you get a bunch of people around the table with different priorities, reaching an action plan is a challenge. It's okay to have competing interests at the table. In fact, it's encouraged. However, the problem lies in the fact that people rarely acknowledge when competing interests are present. Instead, meetings get derailed by the inevitable stalemate when each functional area fights relentlessly for its own cause.

Here's a better idea: clear the roadblocks immediately. Start off the meeting by having an honest discussion about risk tolerance. Ask everyone in the group to provide input on how much risk they are willing to take in social media. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are you open to publishing unbranded content? How about branded?
  • Are you open to allowing comments on company-run social media properties?
  • Would you be comfortable with responding directly to patients in public forums?
  • Are you prepared to handle an adverse event through social media?

It is impossible to eliminate risk when engaging in social media. But to ignore that it exists during the planning process is a treacherous path. Establish your risk quotient from the outset and lay out a plan for mitigating and dealing with that risk.

2 comments about "Establish Your Social Media Risk Quotient ".
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  1. Guy Powell from ProRelevant Marketing Solutions, May 10, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.


    I speak a lot on ROI of Social Media ( and one of the 'costs' is the potential risk and the associated preparatory costs related to crisis management that need to be put in place in order to be able to quickly respond to a potential negative event (e.g., the Greenpeace attack on the Palm Oil use by Unilever and Nestle).

    It would be great to hear about what others have done to 'value' these preparatory costs and the expected value of some follow-on costs after a crisis in social media hits. If you have any experience in this area, please let me know.



  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 10, 2011 at 12:06 p.m.

    Pharmas always need to tread lightly when dealing with the public. There are hoards of anti-social behaviors on public, not social, media. It's not private and people who use the "public airwaves" so to speak need to be aware they are being used and abused by unscrupulous greed who provide medications for profit. While there is a tremendous amount of useful information on line, personal divultions are being data mined.

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