Healthcare Marketing: When Social Media Goes Bad


Social media provides the opportunity for dissatisfied customers to complain…. to a wide audience.  It’s important when and how a brand responds.


A mom in Baton Rouge, LA, complained about changes to Proctor and Gamble’s Pampers Cruisers. Although P&G appropriately responded to her complaint, when she heard other moms make the same complaint she became a regular complainer on P&G’s message board and created a Facebook page to air complaints.

Johnson and Johnson ran an online ad for Motrin about moms who wear their babies in slings.  After 45 days of the ads first appearance, a blogger posted a complaint.  Soon another blogger followed and then thousands were involved in the controversy with as many as 300 tweets an hour.

Shiny Suds ran a television ad in which cartoon suds harassed a woman in the shower.   Two feminist bloggers took issue with the ads claiming the ad condoned rape.  Method, the manufacturer of Shiny Suds, began receiving thousands of email complaints.

And there are many other examples, some of which involved complete falsehoods.  It shows that even as few as one malcontent can use the power of social media to create quite a storm.  So when should a brand respond to an online complaint?  That is not an easy question. It is an emerging science at best.

Jeff Neff in an article in Advertising Age cited the examples above and offered some factors to consider when deciding whether to respond to an online/social media complaint.

Among the factors to consider:

1. How credible is the source?

The tone and track record of the source is important.

2. How influential is the forum?

Is it a thinly read message board or someplace with a larger following? Does it have staying power?

3. How common is the complaint likely to be?

A common complaint has the potential to get traction and engage others.

4. How serious is the complaint?

Is it a matter of taste or preference or a larger issue, which may be more offensive?

5. How likely is a response to make things worse?

Sometimes a response adds credibility to the complaint.

6. How important is the issue to the brand’s customers?

Does it affect many or a few?  How large is that for the brand’s customer base?

These are certainly not the only issues to consider for every case but it provides a start.  All brands, including healthcare brands are subject to one person or a few persons who can use online/social media to try to tarnish a brand.  How successful they are depends largely whether we respond and how we respond.  We should however tread carefully, thoughtfully and strategically.

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