PR Lessons Learned In the Age of Twitter


A man walks into a room and comments on a secret that was just shared among the group. One woman says, “How do you know that? No one’s left this room.” The response: “It’s all over Twitter.”

Social networking has changed the way in which people share and hunt for information, especially health and investor news. Today, one-dimensional advertising or even news articles are peripheral to the conversational power of social media. Patients in need can find community, and can engage in immediate dialogue on disease and treatment options, through the inter-connective magic of Twitter, Facebook, and other power players—and advocates can be roused to action almost instantaneously. To put it simply, social media gives the old-fashioned children’s game of “telephone” rocket-powered speed.

Take the example of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s plan to withhold from Planned Parenthood Federation of America $750,000 in planned grant funding for breast cancer screening. Politics aside, the event was a fascinating and pivotal case study for communications in the context of social media.

While Planned Parenthood moved to action almost immediately, tapping into its advocate network via email and social media, Susan G. Komen appeared to let the story spin out of control. Within hours of official notification, Planned Parenthood issued a call-to-action to constituents and mobilized a broad and deep communications effort, including an e-mail communiqué from its president; outreach to influential public officials sympathetic to the organization’s mission; media engagement, especially with high-profile professional women reporters; and blogosphere leverage, commandeering the social media space. Their multi-pronged campaign achieved critical mass and created an eventual tipping point resulting in Susan G. Komen withdrawing its grant denial.

As communications professionals, what can we learn from this episode? And how can we help clients communicate clearly, with fair-balance, in the uncertain and evolving realm of social media?


1. Start early. Create a receptive environment in advance by engaging with key audiences and explaining your planned actions. Begin by conducting social media audits on the category, the brand, and/or the issue. Finding out customer preconceptions enables companies to address needs and develop messaging, and to identify key influencers in the environment who seek to engage and reengage. If your product has not been launched, begin joining communities now— in many patient communities, they’re already discussing your product (and possibly its price or potential side effects).

2. Expect sports-fan behavior. Sports fans are passionate about their teams, but emotions expressed are not always positive. You (and your medical, regulatory, and legal colleagues) will need to accept that even patients who love your product will complain about you—just as sports fans love their team but complain about management, coaching, or individual players. That’s okay. Social media allows real-time dialogue, not a lecture. Sometimes stand aside and let it pass.

3. Anticipate the tipping point. By monitoring social media discussions and developing a strategic plan—anticipating media and audience response—you can help your client be ready to either pre-empt or react quickly. If you are the recipient of negative news, assess your position and its impact, be prepared to mobilize your stakeholders to take a desired action, and enlist the support of outside experts who can help deliver the message.

Social media creates an open line to patients whose lives clients seek to improve and shareholders curious about their investment. In the world of healthcare conversations, it’s the death of one-way monologue and the birth of true dialogue—and with a bit of careful forethought and attention to the discussions already underway, companies can provide, and reap, real value for improving lives.


You May Also Like

Industry Briefs

ADVICE NETWORKS ACQUIRES PATIENTPOINT Healthy Advice Networks announced the acquisition of PatientPoint, a provider ...

The Challenger Sale—Taking Control of the Customer Conversation

Pharma sales representatives can learn high performance skills from the B2B industry model. What ...

The Parable of the Piano Teacher

In April’s column on creating habit, the timing of return office visits was touted ...