Twitter and the pharmaceutical industry


In my last blog, I wrote about “The importance of Twitter for businesses”. Today I would like to focus on how the pharmaceutical industry is using it. To keep things simple I am just going to look at the handles (usernames) of the top 20 pharma companies. The research will be limited to the corporate brands only.

The table below is a snap shot of these companies (as at 24nd May 2011):

Company &
Tweets Following Followers Listed
414 2,086 15,526 946
Johnson & Johnson
1,570 1,803 6,128 503
Hoffmann–La Roche
1,341 1,231 10,206 752
611 9 12,547 727
128 119 2,799 101
503 1,326 1,198 62
455 189 6,597 512
Abbott Labs
0 0 0 0
Merck & Co.
2,632 1 1,333 138
Bristol-Myers Squibb
180 95 4,302 32
Eli Lilly and Coy
812 1,535 3,826 225
Boehringer Ingelheim
813 2,656 6,856 446
Takeda Pharma Co.
0 0 0 0
122 52 4,340 330
292 0 5,604 387
Baxter International
105 0 1,255 142
Teva Pharma Industries
0 0 0 0
Astellas Pharma
269 373 3,037 260
Daiichi Sankyo
0 0 788 68
Novo Nordisk
399 185 946 66
Total 10,646 11,660 87,288 5,697
Average 532 583 4,364 285

We can see from the review that most of these companies have either focused on “news stories” or have linked their tweeter feed to jobs and careers.  A number of them also have a variety of other accounts either for different divisions (ie animal health) or other countries. Unfortunately there does not seem to be an integrated approach:

•    Why would you have accounts for @merckcareers1 and @merckjobs both referring to the same website?
•     Roche has a Spanish handle but no other country variant.
•    GSK has a UK and US version, is this really necessary?

Pharma companies are limited when it comes to communicating product information to consumers. This means that social media should be used to promote the corporate brand. We have already seen that GSK has UK and US accounts, does this mean that they will also be implementing, Irish, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand versions too? I would argue that pharma companies should only have language variants because they are promoting their global corporate brands (other sectors like the automotive industry can have country variants because they are promoting country specific brands).

When it comes to following people there are a number of options that can be adopted:

•    Follow all those who follow you (this helps in building your numbers).
•    Follow only interesting profiles.
•    Don’t follow anyone.

Global pharmaceutical organisations should opt for “not following anyone”.  If they need to see what others are doing then they should create lists. This will ensure that they are comparing similar profiles.

On average, these top 20 pharma companies have posted 532 tweets and have 4,364 followers. Pfizer, Roche and Norvatis account for 44% of the total following but J&J, Roche and Merck have 52% of the tweets. How does this compare to other sectors? The example below illustrates some of the businesses  that have begun to exploit this medium:

•    The FDA (@FDArecalls) has posted 1,432 tweets and has 149,778 followers.
•    Amex (@AmericanExpress) has posted 7527 tweets and has 133,032 followers.
•    Boeing (@Boeingairplanes) has posted 1217 tweets and has 26,141 followers.
(figures are as at 24nd May 2011)

Overall one can conclude that pharma companies are still unclear how to maximise the benefits of social media. Sadly this trend is similar in most of the other sectors (FMCG, media and entertainment being the exception). Bearing in mind the amount of money these companies spend on PR and communications I find it amazing that they have not yet fully embraced this opportunity.


Other related articles:

The importance of Twitter for businesses.

Developing a pharmaceutical digital strategy.

Social Media a business driver or divider?

Social media and the pharmaceutical industry.

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Dr Alan Shaw is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing consultant focusing on a range of sectors. His main interests are in strategy development, social marketing, digital marketing, advertising, consumer behaviour and marketing application.

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