Month: March 2013

Social customer service done right

This post is to say a quick thank you to Chiltern Railways. A little odd, I know, but sometimes you just receive good customer service and these rarities should be celebrated.

Thursday night was a bit of a #fail for me. After a busy week and one too many wines after work, I fell asleep on the last train home. Having woken up just as the doors were shutting at my stop, I sprinted off – pretty pleased with myself that I’d not stayed asleep all the way to Banbury. Then to my horror, I realised I was bag-less.

Any girl will back me up here – my handbag is my life. Car keys, house keys, purse, ID, kindle, make-up….the list goes on. So combine the loss of this, with the late hour, and you have a pretty upset PR girl on your hands.

So to get to the point. I get home at 1am and try to call Chiltern Railways on any possible number I can find. Of course they aren’t open. So in what I felt was a stroke of genius I decided to tweet @chilternrailway and ask them what I should do. I then put myself to bed thinking all hope was lost.

I wake up the next morning to find a tweet from @chilternrailway advising me what I should do. Bearing in mind this was 6.30am, I was pretty impressed. I then proceeded to have a -albeit short – back and forth conversation with them. And I’d like to note here that this was a good five and a half hours before any sort of office opened that could help me.

So the point of my story is about using Twitter for customer service.These guys were responsive, helpful and that all important one – personable. They were responding to me like they actually cared about the loss of my bag (I know working in PR I shouldn’t be a sucker for these things, but it really does work!), and most importantly, they were available when no-one else from the company was.

Let this be a lesson to all of you out there: Twitter is a hugely valuable asset for maintaining excellent customer service. Oh, and don’t leave your bag on the train.

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The social media side effect

This is an edited version of a blog I contribute to elsewhere on the web.

People working in the world of pharma would be justified in beginning to think that their profession has never been sexier. Hollywood is turning what has historically been perceived as a dry profession into an arena in which love stories and thrillers are made.

If you’ve ever watched Love and Other Drugs – a rom-com where Anne Hathaway falls for a drug rep – you’d be forgiven for thinking that those of us who work in and around pharma were now being viewed in a positive light.

But Hollywood is hardly famed for its naturalistic representation of anything (let alone something as complicated as our industry) and so anyone hoping for the attentions of an Anne Hathaway look-a-like (or their male equivalent) on the basis of their job should probably just keep waiting.

A darker side of the industry is hinted at in the upcoming Jude Law movie Side Effects (trailer embedded below) in which Steven Soderbergh explores the ramifications of the industry’s approach to selling anti-depressants in a way that may be thrilling on screen but which is unlikely to do much to prevent criticisms of pharma’s role in society.

And it’s this bigger question of pharma’s role in society that yet another new film about the industry addresses.

In the strictly non-fictional documentary ‘Fire in the Blood’, director Dylan Mohan Gray explores the negativities of drug patents and the access restrictions this can mean in the developing world.

As very coherently put by PJ Online (the journal of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society) in their review last week, this is the third part of what could be considered a recent trilogy of bad publicity for the industry:

So what do all of these things mean for us actually working in pharma?

Well, it means we have a whole new audience taking an interest in our world – a whole new group of people interested in what we do, why we do it and at what cost.

What this means in a connected world is the opening of a Pandora’s box of online activity, one that for those companies who have already put themselves out there in the social ecosystem is likely to prove testing for their social infrastructure and guidelines.

A great PM Live article poses an appropriate metaphor in urging these companies to ‘strengthen their social immune systems’ by looking to use their online communities as ambassadors in times of crisis.

But can most companies realistically look to rely on this mechanism? Again – if you currently manage any pharma social activities ask yourself “Do I really have an online community who are likely to make credible ambassadors?”

If you manage externally-facing social activities in the industry right now, and the answer to the above question is “no” then you should probably conduct a quick review of your processes and run some scenarios on how a new influx of informed (and inevitably negative) opinion might play out for you.

In this new world where anyone is fair game in terms of wider social conversations, it’s essential to understand where conversations are happening, why they are happening (both from a conversation driver perspective and from a deeper understanding of social trends) and what our role and responsibility as the pharma industry is in participating in these.

As the release of both these factual and fictional takes on pharma’s ethics highlights, never before has listening been quite so crucial to keep abreast of online conversations and to understand their implications for your business.

Whilst Hollywood does not generally drive direct consumer engagement with pharma’s social profiles, what it’s already doing is making the whole pharma conversation just that little bit more mainstream.

After all, humans are, by nature, curious individuals, so the chance of watching Love and Other Drugs, for example, and then heading off to Google Pfizer are pretty high.

So will a suited and booted Jude Law prompt your average Jo to turn to their social channels for a little more information on psychiatric drugs and their side effects? Yes, it’s more than likely. And this goes double for the issues raised in Fire in the Blood.

This isn’t to say that companies should go out there with a strongly worded opinion in response to this documentary, but it does highlight more strongly than ever the need to be prepared.

Being prepared means having the ability to listen to conversations and to then take leadership where leadership is required. It means real-time listening – and listening in the context of wider issues – and knowing how and when to respond.

The ability to understand and act upon inputs such as response rates, tone of voice, and the implementation of effective governance decision trees and their associated responsibilities, will weed out the socially strong from the socially naive.

And let’s not forget that social media can, and will, drive traditional media coverage. Effective online crisis management can, and will, prevent this from happening.

But only if you know these issues exist.

We as an industry must be ready for social trends to mirror popular culture and satisfy our inquisitive natures, and have our listening and response protocols up-and-running, and be ready for engagement.

As pharma becomes part of everyday conversations, let’s see who leads the way, and who is left scrambling to pull together an SOP.

Who knew Jude Law could teach us so much?

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A positive NHS story

nhs 2

So it would seem that the NHS are upping their game when it comes to digital and social. This week I’ve seen a few things that have made me think the NHS are actually embracing the impact of social media and digital assets in the healthcare world.

The NHS Commissioning Board are offering us some clarity in terms of what could potentially be an overwhelming number of health apps. The online library initially consists of 70 healthcare apps that the NHS deem to be clinically safe for people to use. And the rationale? Well, as a minimum, a clinical assurance team made up of doctors, nurses and safety specialists, are looking to see that the app is relevant to UK audiences, complies with data protection, and that the information provided within the app is based on trusted sources.

But this only gets you, as an app developer, in the door; not yet onto the site. The next qualifier is to determine whether the app could potentially cause harm to a person’s health. If the information provided is deemed to be too personalised to an individual, or indeed goes so far as to recommend treatment options, then it will not make the cut. This type of specific guidance is determined to potentially cause more harm than good if used incorrectly. And I would have to agree.

Now this type of guidance is a nice to have, but some could argue not necessarily essential. Does this list of 70 really help when you have 13,000 healthcare apps out there? Potentially not.

However, the other piece of news this week (thanks to Dominic Tyer’s Digital Intelligence blog) that has got me seeing the NHS in a bit of a different light is the announcement that they will be funding new ‘digital health hubs.’ To me, this is a bold move that demonstrates recognition of the fact that digital and social media add value to the patient journey, and can no longer be ignored in healthcare. Finally!

What these hubs look like isn’t yet clear but partnering with the Online Centres Foundation, the digital health hubs will be taking over public areas in locations such as libraries, cafes, pubs and community centres. The purpose of these is to allow those that may not have easily available internet access to become the informed patients that they deserve to be; going to their doctor with an idea of their future, without it being prescribed to them.

I’ve previously written over on the other blog I contribute to about how we as healthcare PR professionals need to be putting the patient back in the conversation, and I think these initiatives do just that. People will be able to find out more about their conditions and interact with health services online that they haven’t previously been able to, readying them for any interactions with healthcare professionals that they might have.

A lot of us sitting in our PR worlds may assume that everyone out there is sitting, eagerly waiting for us to create that online asset that improves their life as a patient, but what about those people where online assets aren’t even accessible, let alone fundamental to their patient journey? With these new hubs and more initiatvives like the app library in the pipeline, more and more people will be able to access digital assets that ultimately improve their patient journey. Keep up the good work NHS.

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The four T’s: Spokespeople in the social space


Something I’m working on at the moment is how to work with spokespeople in the social space. This can sometimes be a bit of a grey area, so I thought it would be helpful to share some learnings for all of you out there who may be nervous or just plain confused.

When being socially active on behalf of a company, there are four key things to remember. I like to call this the four T’s:

  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Training
  • Time

The key thing to consider both as a spokesperson and as a company asking someone to be your spokesperson, is transparency. It is important that as a spokesperson, whatever you say in the social space is supported with documentation of who you work for. And for this, I like to refer to our offline world. In traditional PR, any spokesperson would openly declare that they are paid by, or a consultant to, X company. This is in the interest of not wanting to mislead, and to be honest with the fact that you are representing a third party. And also, let’s not forget, in the world of healthcare it’s because the ABPI tells you to!

The purpose of this is not to undermine the authenticity of what is being said, it’s purely to maintain honesty and transparency in an industry that often faces criticism. No one likes to be deceived. So in the social space we just need to apply the same principles. Whether it’s in your twitter bio, your ‘about me’ on your blog, or even just a mention on relevant blog posts, a simple ‘consultant of the pharmaceutical industry’ is usually sufficient. But of course, whenever doing anything like this, it is vital to check internal social media policies, as these often vary by company.

The next T is trust and for me this is two-fold. Do you as a company trust a potential spokesperson, and are they as individuals trusted in their communities?

So by that I mean do you trust them to stay on message, be an advocate for your brand, know how to behave in the social space both courteously and credibly, and not to engage in negative conversations? On the other hand we have to consider their level of credibility within their audience – are they trusted? It is only if this is true that they will be able to influence opinion and shape conversations in the way that you desire.

Next we have training and I believe that this is very important. Not only do you need to educate your spokesperson on the rules and regulations, the tone and messages of your campaign, and the expectations, you also don’t want them to feel unsupported and perhaps apprehensive to actively engage in conversations. Again, we can look back to our offline lives – you would never ask activity of a spokesperson before media training them, so don’t do it in the social world!

An important part of this will be an issues management-type session, whereby you walk through a pre-approved protocol of exactly what to do in worst-case scenarios. I like to do this in a simple flow chart – ‘if this happens, I follow the flow chart and do this.’ Easy!

As an aside, it’s also important to note here that you should never ask someone to be a social spokesperson unless they are already active, comfortable and present in the social space. Nothing screams ‘I’ve been paid to do this’ more than a tweet going out from a handle that has had no activity for 3 months. It also means that the individual likely feels pretty comfortable with engaging online and understands common courtesies and expectations.

Then finally we have time. For success, you need agreement from your spokesperson that they have the time to make the commitment that social can sometimes be. We can’t let comments or questions go without response. And of course us as PR agencies can support in this by real-time monitoring of any engagement, and implementation of a process of notification and action.

The second part of this time element is to ask yourselves ‘can you as a company commit to putting the time in for monitoring, ongoing support to your spokespeople and adaptation as the campaign and objectives evolve?’ And fingers crossed the answer is yes!

There’s no denying that the social world needs different considerations and in some cases a bigger time commitment, but as with many areas of social, we can look to our traditional PR practices that we know so well and take reference. And remember, your spokespeople aren’t necessarily your biggest influencers, but they are the face of your brand: preparing them for the social world is worth the investment.

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A little about the Facebook updates

like pic

Facebook seems to be announcing updates as frequently as its users are updating their statuses. But the latest one is the first one that I see as being relevant to everyone’s day-to-day use.

The main update that seems to be getting all the chatter is the change to the newsfeed. Today it was announced that no longer will there be just one news feed, you will soon be able to choose whether you are seeing the photo feed, friend list feeds, music feeds, or updates of your liked pages – the Following feed.

Who cares? Well I think it will make for a much nicer browsing experience– and I am aware I’m saying this without actually having tried it out – I think it will cut down on all the junk that our feeds have become so full of. We’ll be able to pick and choose the information we see, with the click of a button. Goodbye to the endless baby pics and hello to content that we actually choose to consume.

And for companies? Well I think there’s certainly something in the ability to choose a feed of updates from the pages you’ve liked. Perhaps we will start reverting back a little to looking at those vanity metrics of how many likes our page can get, as ultimately that means we sit in someone’s dedicated feed. Of course we could still be one amongst hundreds, but we wouldn’t be competing for attention with the photos from last Friday night…

And what about the other updates? Well there’s the appearance of the newsfeed itself – images will appear much larger, multiple shares will appear as one and the thumbnails of shared links will appear bigger with more information, making for a much easier browsing experience.

Mark Zuckerberg said at the announcement today that they are trying to give us ‘the worlds best newspaper’ and I think they might just be getting there. This is the first update in a while when I think, yes, that totally makes sense. We are moving to a much more visual word where images are now telling the stories that our words once did. When time is now our luxury, we are ever more selective with how we choose to spend it online. And Facebook is now slotting nicely into these behaviours. Well done Facebook. Well done.

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News bulletin

When I first interviewed for my job, one of the tasks I had to do was develop a presentation on ‘citizen based journalism.’ Now this was in 2011 and I started to wonder whether anything had changed since my findings then. In short, the only change I’ve seen is the growth of this trend where public citizens play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information (thanks for the definition Wikipaedia).

In my opinion, there is no longer a clear definition between what is news and what is noise about daily happenings. News has become what you as an individual deem it to be. We can now pick and choose what news we consume – we are no longer reliant on what the 10 o’clock news tells us. In fact, due to the instantaneous nature of the social world we live in, the 10 o’clock news and the morning papers are actually giving us old news.

So who is the journalist in 2013? We have journalists in a traditional sense who work for a news organisation, whose sole job is to find, gather and analyse news. But then we have us. If we provide real-time updates as an event unfolds, does that make us journalists too?

When there was the helicopter crash in Vauxhall last month, I saw it before it even made the news because one of my Facebook friends uploaded a photo of the smoke from the scene as they waited for a train. Is he a journalist? No, not in the traditional sense. But when you think of the purpose of a journalist’s job, then this certainly fulfilled that criteria.

I like that now the two roles merge. Traditional journalists have come to rely on people to provide the on-the-ground, credible perspective; often viewing their Tweetdeck feeds as the new newswire when it comes to keeping abreast of current stories.

And I know this isn’t a new concept, I just wonder how, and if, it will change in the future. Will we become ever more skeptical of what is packaged to us as ‘news’ and turn to our social profiles for on-the-ground reporting and opinion. Perhaps we will become a little more selective in who and what we follow, but I think the future of news reporting is most definitely in the social sphere. And this ties nicely to one of my earlier posts about why social media sits with PR professionals.

Also on this topic we have the term ‘news jacking’; the art of latching on to a current piece of news and becoming part of the conversation, and something that sits so beautifully across news and social media. Done right, this can work really well and is an easy PR quick win. A great example of this right now is the Harlem shake that’s currently causing a pretty impressive online storm. If you don’t know about it, firstly, where have you been, and secondly, Google it!

And now there are a lot of companies, charities and groups of friends on Friday nights recording their own versions and jumping in on the current hot topic. A really good example was done this week by JG Environmental, who did a pest-themed Harlem shake. In an awesome example of the power of both PR and social media (here is where I get excited!) there was a hashtag, a YouTube video with views increasing by the minute, online conversations and even local media coverage. If you want to know how to become part of a meme whilst promoting your business and giving your company that personality that social media allows you to do so well – take a look at these guys. And for that matter, their social media strategy in general is one to be admired.

And on that note, I’m off to Harlem shake around my house.

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