Is Pharma Ready for a Whitney Houston Moment?

Whitney Houston

By Sven Larsen (@svenplarsen)

February has been a big month for social media with tremendous activity surrounding both last night’s Oscar ceremony and the Superbowl. But the event which should really send up some concerns among Pharma social media practitioners was the tragic death of singer Whitney Houston. The news, originally broken by a relative of a hotel staffer, was retweeted almost 2.5 million times in the first hour after her death according to data tracking company Topsy Labs. The sheer volume of data re-transmission is a testament to both the real time reporting capabilities of Twitter and the power of the social web. But imagine this – what if Houston’s death had been caused by prescription or OTC drug abuse? And what if that drug was manufactured by your company?

Unfortunately, given Houston’s past history with substance abuse it’s not an unrealistic scenario. But it’s one I can’t imagine any Pharma company would be ready for.

Consider this. The news broke on a Saturday afternoon, when most Pharma PR folks would not even be looking at a computer. Of course, someone would receive notification over a mobile device and would have been able to notify the appropriate contacts in their organization. But what then? Would those corp comm staffers have a response already in place? Would they have to craft one on the reply? I’m assuming they would have to run it by legal before releasing anything. How long would that take? Eight hours? Twenty four hours? More?

Best case scenario, potentially millions of tweets and other postings would be out in the social web. And the possibility of misinformation or postings about off label use could be off the charts. How would your organization respond.

And how would the FDA respond? Would they realize that no organization could possibly handle the sheer volume of information that would flood the web? Would they feel political pressure to hold the drug company accountable?

Who knows. If nothing else, a scenario like this emphasizes the ongoing need for clear guidelines from the FDA.

From a marketing standpoint, we’ve seen numerous companies tentatively dip their toes in to the social media waters. But is your company ready if it get’s pushed in to the pool?

Recent US history has been filled with events that occurred at least partly because of either neglect or an unwillingness on the part of those in charge to address worse case scenarios.

Is it only a matter of time before Pharma suffers a similar situation? Will your company be ready when it’s Whitney Houston moment rolls around?

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