Last night I watched a very poignant documentary about Terry Pratchett, the author of The Light Fantastic, and assisted dying in Switzerland  ( Terry Pratchett happens to be one of my favourite authors and he is a very articulate man who also has Alzheimer’s – making this a very moving and thought provoking documentary.

 This documentary covered the very controversial and highly emotive topic of assisted suicide – and whether terminally ill people should have the right to die at home, without pain and at a time of their choosing.  It is a very difficult and painful topic and, for anyone discussing this online via social media, potentially fraught with some very vocal opinions and unpleasant discussions.

 Looking at this issue, and some of the potentially controversial opinions that get raised via comments and online discussions, makes it a little easier to understand pharma’s reticence to get involved in social media.  Here is a very good example of the difficulty in enabling comments on Facebook pages and other social media resources – potentially the resource could get inundated with controversial comments.

 It also highlights the importance of monitoring but also the potential size of resource needed to do this.  Any topic that people feel strongly about is more likely to get shared and lead to more comments.  This means that the there needs to be daily monitoring of comments – and by daily I do not mean one hour in the morning but I mean at intervals throughout the day. 

For blogs, such as this one, the issue is easier to handle as you can approve the comments before they go live however when it comes to Facebook the action is retro-active – meaning that there is a real sense of urgency and speed.  Any potentially offensive, harmful or illegal comments need to be removed (ideally) immediately.  This naturally does not happen if you only have a single person checking the page once a day – by the time they check the next day the discussion could have blown up and taken over – making it very hard to handle.

 The trouble is however with restricted (and often decreasing) budgets how can a company ensure that they can fund the necessary resources needed to monitor a social media initiative? Often it falls under the marketing team’s remit to do this monitoring in addition to their day jobs and essentially this may mean a once daily check – but as already mentioned above this is highly unlikely to be sufficient. 

 One option is to use an external agency or programme – but again this can be very expensive.  Another option is to consider using a “cheap” resource such as an intern or fresh graduate recruit to do the regular monitoring at various points throughout the day.  This would need to be set up by starting with some very clear general guidelines but also guidelines specific to the initiative itself.  These would provide the intern with guidance in the day to day handling of the social media initiative.  However there would also need to be some more senior (and consequently more “expensive”) input but this could be limited to providing guidance (e.g. via weekly meetings) and then being on hand to step in during times of crisis or particularly strategic conversations.  This way cost effective, ongoing monitoring can be provided whilst at the same time having resources on hand for any negative eventualities.

 With sufficient resources and ongoing monitoring in place a pharma company could set up a social media resource and would be ready for any comments – even controversial ones

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