Social media in pharmacy: the good, the bad and the ugly

"Share" button on keyboard: pharmacists warned to be careful

Plenty of community pharmacies are setting up social media profiles, but there are pitfalls. Here’s what you need to know.

Social media—websites, blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram—the list goes on, and it seems nearly everyone uses it, both professionally and personally. However, when it becomes part of your business or marketing strategy to engage with customers about your products and services, you need to know how to do it successfully, and also how to manage the potential pitfalls.

Tina Scrine, industrial relations manager, from the Pharmacy Guild Queensland branch made a presentation on this topic at PA 2015 earlier this month.

‘Like’ the good

According to Scrine, social media can be utilised for greater customer engagement and feedback; for market research purposes; and improve networking opportunities with consumers and other business.

However, before embarking on a social media strategy, Scrine says, “it is wise to tread carefully… and have a social media plan”. This should involve research and analysis on: which social media tools you want to use; whether you are ready for social media; do your customers use social media; and how do your competitors use social media.

It is also essential to establish some rules around internal procedures about security, privacy and content. Likewise, it is important to develop an acceptable use policy, she adds.

Additionally, you need to think about what resources are required and establish a team that has the appropriate skills and training to manage it. The team should be familiarised with all policies and procedures around the strategy—this is extremely important, says Scrine.

She emphasises that once you adopt a social media strategy it is essential to measure and benchmark its success.

“It’s important to measure the impact of your strategies and understand what is working and what isn’t.”

Risks and the ‘bad’

Scrine points out there are inherent risks from any social media strategy, coming from all quarters—your staff, customers and competitors.

“It is also important to remember that social media is immediate and needs someone to monitor it at least daily.

“Greater exposure online has the potential to attract risks such as negative feedback, information leaks or hacking.”

However, if you receive negative feedback from a customer—you should definitely not just ignore it, she says.

“You should respond and acknowledge a customer’s disappointment—people like to feel they have been heard.”

She says disgruntled staff could use your social media to harass, bully, sexually harass or discriminate against colleagues, consumers, suppliers and competitors.

Scrine gave case studies of how some unhappy employees have used social media—especially Facebook—to post negative and derogatory comments about their employer and colleagues. This has the huge potential to damage the reputation of the pharmacy; or breach privacy and reveal confidential information. This can occur not just on the pharmacy’s Facebook page, for example, but on an employee’s private site.

“Employers may be able to lawfully dismiss a staff member who posts abusive and threatening comments about the employer and other staff on their personal social media website—even if they are made outside work”. But Scrine says, posting negative comments might not be grounds for dismissal unless the post is likely to cause serious damage to the employment relationship or damage the employer’s interests; or is incompatible with the employee’s role.

She also stressed it essential that an employer takes action promptly if they feel they have been defamed.

Scrine told delegates, for an employer to take disciplinary action in relation to an employee’s misconduct on social media, it is vital they have a comprehensive and specific social media policy that clearly sets out acceptable and prohibited use of social media in connection with employment and states the consequences of a breach.

She says while social media can be a positive and beneficial way to market a pharmacy’s services and products, it has to be implemented and maintained with care and caution.

Readers should seek proper legal advice before acting on any of the general information contained in this article.


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