International online media coverage has quickened the pace and broadened the circulation of news about clinical trials, especially announcements about study results. While your site’s main communications activities will be largely interpersonal in nature, you should pay close attention to online media coverage of your study. Start setting aside resources and time to monitor and respond to Internet postings. Here are some tips to get started:
Gear up. Sensational news coverage on the Internet can occur at any time of day or night. The communications and media point person for your trial site should have reliable access to the Internet, both at the trial site and from home. This may mean budgeting to purchase a laptop or telephone with Internet access, or identifying other ways to stay connected, such as having a reimbursement policy for using an Internet café during weekends and holidays.
Use your global networks to monitor media around the clock. When announcements or results are expected, make a plan with your partners across the world. Designate point people to make sure that media is being monitored 24 hours a day and that news coverage is quickly shared with your communications team.
Respond quickly. Be prepared to respond swiftly to inaccurate or inflammatory coverage online on major Internet sites. Do not lose time writing something new. Adapt your key messages and prepared materials to quickly compose an online correction or response. Typically, it is not feasible or advisable to respond to small-circulation blog postings or defamatory Web sites—for example, to AIDS denialists or anti-research groups. However, if a negative blog has possible links to local news outlets, it is important to take these posts seriously. Even if you do not respond to the blog, you might want to consider what could be done locally to counteract the false claims being made. When negative postings are picked up by other online news outlets and spread widely, you will likely need to respond.
Call and correct errors. If an article is posted on a legitimate online news Web site, there should be an editor’s contact e-mail and telephone number available. At first notice of an inaccuracy, fallacy, or breach of embargo, call the editor and ask for a correction or removal of the link, if appropriate.
Avoid character debates. If the coverage is a blog, social media, or list server posting, be careful about seeming defensive or engaging in a personal debate. Even if you or your professional work is personally attacked, remain formal and professional in your written correspondence. Refute the inaccuracies, use the facts from your existing materials, and direct people to your Web site or other high-quality resources for more information.