In a May 20 tweet heard round the clinical trials Twittersphere, Quintiles announced that it was providing new social media guidelines to all employees. The same announcement was made on Facebook as well. Shortly after, Quintiles posted their guidelines publicly due to “many requests.”
In one sense, Quintiles’ public dissemination of their guidelines is not groundbreaking. Many other large organizations have published internal social media guidelines, including Red Cross, Intel, and Cleveland Clinic. Most notably in pharma, Roche generated significant buzz by publishing their social media policy in 2010. But as is typical for the clinical research industry, CROs have been more conservative in this area. That is, until now.
Quintiles is the first CRO to publish company social media guidelines. But there is more to this story than mere guidelines.
More Than Social Media Guidelines
For the sake of discussion, various social media platforms are often lumped into the category of “social media,” rather than addressed individually. Though this terminology is a convenient classification, it tends to conceal some very real differences between various social media platforms. To liken Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter to social settings, for example, Linkedin is a conference room, Facebook is a dinner table, and Twitter is a bar.
Though Twitter fosters some very fascinating discussions, the conversation has less structure and is difficult to control. And like a bar, you might have the occasional drunk shouting inappropriate things. For this reason, Twitter is a bit more difficult for large organizations to navigate.
Though most major CROs have long had an official company presence on social media platforms, their activity on the less formal of these platforms has been tepid. For example, Quintiles has averaged about one tweet per day, which is more than most other CROs.
But since Quintiles published company social media guidelines on May 20, its Twitter activity has increased significantly. Quintiles is posting several times a day and conversing with others more frequently (though most conversing is over private message).
Quintiles also signaled that it is more willing to engage on Facebook. Facebook fan pages allow brands to create a mini forum around a topic, which is called a “discussion.” Quintiles had never started one of these discussions on its Facebook page. But after the social media guidelines were published, Quintiles started a discussion about the guidelines and invited comment.
This sudden flurry of activity and engagement, combined with a shiny new social media policy, suggests that Quintiles made a strategic decision to loosen up a bit and embrace social media more fully. If this is the beginning of a more active and engaged social media strategy by Quintiles, that would be a big step for the industry in terms of social media adoption. Quintiles is the largest CRO, with revenues topping $3 billion and over 20,000 employees worldwide.
Given Quintiles’ recent social media activity, surely the clinical research industry will (or should) take notice. And professionals who have dragged their feet on social media may be forced to reconsider that stance.
Though I can’t predict exactly what Quintiles’ move means for industry social media adoption, this is a significant step towards embracing it. Whether this embrace remains in side hug territory or ventures into bear hug territory remains to be seen.
A Common Sense Social Media Policy
Quintiles described their social media guidelines as “common sense,” and I agree with that characterization. Their policy provides general guidance for employees, resisting the temptation to institute draconian rules.
A commonly repeated phrase among social media professionals is, “If you can’t trust your employees to participate in social media, you have a HR problem rather than a social media problem.” By providing employees with common sense guidance, Quintiles is signaling confidence in employee ability to exercise judgement and navigate social media waters appropriately.
The social media policy details five ways to participate appropriately in social media, five things to avoid in social media, and five guidelines for social media dialogue. I’ll provide a cheat sheet below, but to understand the guidelines, I recommend you take a look at the full policy.
Five ways to participate appropriately in social media:
- Leveraging Quintiles-owned social media channels
- Commenting or collaborating via QZone
- Distributing approved content to your personal networks
- Connecting with professional or personal contacts
- Speaking ‘about’ Quintiles in your personal social media network
Five things to avoid in social media:
- Do not create pages or communities on behalf of Quintiles
- Do not post anything that might damage the reputation of Quintiles
- Do not discuss confidential or proprietary information
- Do not discuss colleagues, competitors, vendors or sponsors
- Do not interject in news stories about Quintiles
Five guidelines for social media dialogue:
- Don’t speak for the company
- Remember you are always “on”
- Identify yourself
- Use credible and reliable sources
- Be respectful
A Tale of Two Social Media Policies
To assess Quintiles’ social media policy, it is useful to compare their guidelines to that of Roche. These two policies have several commonalities, but a couple of interesting differences are worth discussing.
Roche published guidelines for its communications team in addition to the standard-issue employee guidance. Roche provided 7 guidelines for employees to speak “about” Roche and 7 guidelines for communications staff speaking “on behalf of” Roche. Quintiles policies, on the other hand, were specifically geared towards employees not in a communications role.
If you look at Roche’s guidelines for speaking “about” Roche, which is directed at general employees, there is certainly a lot of overlap with the Quintiles guidelines.
But Roche’s policy actually goes a step further than that of Quintiles. The seventh item on Roche’s list even urges employees to be a scout for sentiment and critical issues, offering the following guidance:
Even if you are not an official online spokesperson, you are one of our most vital assets for monitoring the social media landscape. If you come across positive or negative remarks about Roche or its products online that you believe are important, consider sharing them by forwarding them to your local communications department. This is most important in the case of so-called “Adverse Events”: When you come across information where somebody mentions side-effects after having taken one of our drugs in a credible and identifiable way, you have to immediately forward such information to the global Drug Safety Team for further action.
Quintiles did make a similar suggestion, but it was more of an afterthought at the end of one of their guidelines. In the case of Roche, the suggestion that employees be scouts is a guideline and is discussed in much more detail.
While social media is often discussed as a communications medium, it is an equally powerful business intelligence tool. A variety of technology solutions can help organizations monitor brand mentions on social media platforms, but human monitoring provides a level of nuance and sophistication that technology cannot.
In terms of business intelligence, social media’s full power is leveraged by threading social media monitoring through all aspects of an organization, rather than confining it to a particular department. By encouraging employees to monitor social media activity and forward items of interest, Roche is able to gain additional business intelligence.
Social Media Resources for Clinical Research Professionals
If your company is interested in jumping into social media, I strongly suggest reading up on Roche’s social media adoption. Its engagement is by far the most progressive of big pharma companies, and its social media strategy has clearly been well thought out. This interview with Sabine Kostevc, who heads Roche’s social media effort, is particularly fascinating: Roche and Social Media.
And if you are interested in seeing what kind of clinical trials conversations are going on in social media, I maintain several Twitter lists focused around clinical trials topics. Some of the accounts included are more active than others. Please let me know if your Twitter account should be on a list. Hopefully, we will see wider industry adoption of social media and these lists will continue to grow and see more activity:
I know social media is a hot topic with varied opinions, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Hat tip: Thanks to @janechin for inspiring the social media platforms metaphor in this post.