Pfizer coaches staff to handle social media

Without FDA rules on using social media, Big Pharma is developing its own. As BNet Pharma reports, Pfizer has rolled out internal guidelines for handling Twitter feeds, blog comments, and social networking. A decision-making flow chart offers a peek at Pfizer's online strategies, hinting at the trigger points likely to put the company's public relations staff into action.

For instance, the company has adopted a "don't sink to their level" policy for trolls posting "inflammatory/extraneous/off-topic" information or "constant rant[s];" the advice to employees is "Monitor Only." But when blog posts get the facts wrong, Pfizer will "respond with factual information." Product-related posts from unhappy patients or other "stakeholders" prompt a discussion with corporate communications or a pre-crafted response, or employees can just respond with a sniffy, librarian-style, "This is not a forum for product discussion."

On the other hand, bloggers who post positive, truthful, agreeable pieces are supposed to get a direct response: "Engage with positive posters," the flow chart advises. The chart also includes some advice for writing blog responses, including the all-important "transparency" exhortation: Disclose your company connection." And there's the commonsense advice to be timely, write conversationally, and have a clear goal for each response.

Pfizer isn't the first Big Pharma to codify social media tactics; as BNet notes, Roche published its guidelines in August. Pfizer's digital communications director said at a recent conference that the new social-media playbook came to be because some Pfizerites were scared stiff of social media. "We don't want them to be intimidated," Kate Bird said (as quoted by BNet). Let's see if Pfizer's tune changes when the FDA finally publishes its rules.

- see the BNet piece