Hospitals

What Progressive, Komen can teach healthcare about social media mistakes

It’s a tricky spot to be in, as Progressive demonstrated last week with its auto-tweet flub. Companies want to keep up to speed and engage customers through social media, but that means opening up the lines of communication to potential negative feedback and complaints. And when the product or service they represent is sensitive or […]

It’s a tricky spot to be in, as Progressive demonstrated last week with its auto-tweet flub.

Companies want to keep up to speed and engage customers through social media, but that means opening up the lines of communication to potential negative feedback and complaints. And when the product or service they represent is sensitive or personal, it can get complicated.

Healthcare marketers know this all too well. Privacy and U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations (or lack thereof) draw a fine line that insurers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, hospitals and physician practices have to walk on Facebook and Twitter.

But we can still look to other industries for some general lessons. Gabriel Perna, associate editor at Healthcare Informatics, pointed to the blog post he wrote last week that criticized the way Progressive responded to Twitter users who were writing about the court case the insurer was involved in over a payout for the 2010 death of Kaitlynn Fisher.

Progressive was getting a plethora of vitriol from the Internet community via Twitter and Facebook. How the company responded, or didn’t respond, is a lesson for every provider and payer in healthcare when it comes to engaging patients.

For every person who reached out to Progressive through Twitter, the company robotically distributed a statement about the case through the TweetLonger feature. The statement read as followed:

“This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again, this is a tragic situation, and we’re sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through.”

Lesson No. 1: Don’t send auto-responses to negative feedback. In healthcare, many of these comments are likely about drug side effects or bad experiences at a hospital or physician’s office, so a sensitive, human response could go a long way.

“You have to be pretty generic in the verbiage so that there’s no indication of a patient-physician relationship,” explained Jamie Verkamp, a managing partner at healthcare marketing consultant (e)Merge. “I have our clients write five or six responses that the physicians have approved that can go up when something negative is posted, that way whoever is monitoring the account can alert an administrator, respond to it and take that conversation offline.”

Even those generic responses are better than avoiding the negative feedback all together. That’s what KV Pharmaceuticals, which has no social media pages, learned the hard way.

In 2011, the company won FDA approval for a drug to reduce the likelihood of preterm birth for at-risk pregnant women that had previously been made by unlicensed chemists and sold for $10 to $20 for a weekly supply. After gaining exclusivity to market the drug, the company priced it at $1,500 and sparked anger among physicians and mothers-to-be.

Thus, the Facebook page “Shame on you, KV Pharmacutical and CEO Greg Divis” was born. The page’s creator told Daniel Ghinn of Creation Healthcare that Facebook gave her a platform to reach and share ideas with other people quickly.

Now, we of course know that correlation does not imply causation, but a few weeks after the group was created, the FDA announced that it wouldn’t crack down on pharmacies that compounded the drug unless there were safety issues involved. Then, weak sales of the drug led KV to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month.

Here’s Ghinn’s takeaway:

The moral of the story for pharmaceutical companies is loud and clear: Ignore social media at your peril. In this digital era, opting out of listening to the voice of stakeholders on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or any other social media channel will leave you entirely out of control of your communication strategy.

Verkamp agrees: “We would rather have a patient post a negative comment on one of our social media sites than on a HealthGrades or a Yelp because they can’t do it anonymously,” she noted. “We then know who they are, so we can follow up and try to make amends with them.”

And, apparently, angry customers appreciate that.  A survey of nearly 1,300 Twitter complaints conducted last year found that while less than 30 percent of the complaints elicited a response from the company at which they were directed, more than 83 percent of the consumers who got a response said they either loved it or liked it.

“If I’m a consumer looking to make a choice on a hospital or a physician, I see that this organization cares enough to acknowledge the problem,” Verkamp said.

That brings us to the issue of deleting negative comments. When the Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle went down earlier this year, angry people took to Komen’s Facebook page to share their disgust. Komen, apparently, removed some of the more negative comments from its wall, which sparked even more of a backlash.

Some pharmaceutical and medical device companies governed by FDA marketing rules state explicitly that certain comments about off-label use, adverse effects or anything that would upset “fair balance” will be removed from their Facebook pages. For other comments, it’s best to publicly acknowledge them and then take the conversation offline, Verkamp said.

“Do not get into any type of back-and-forth discussion live online,” she suggested. “It’s best to put in a ‘thanks for your response’ type comment and take that offline.”

[Photo from David Castillo Dominici]