Pharma gets social: Ten tweet chats transforming pharma digital engagement

Daniel Ghinn highlights why tweet chats are increasingly popular in the healthcare space.

The past few years have seen healthcare companies take to Twitter increasingly to host and participate in public online conversations with stakeholders, including healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients. Even in the regulated pharmaceutical industry, open ‘tweet chats’ are now becoming popular tactics for engaging audiences on a particular topic.

Tweet chats are usually time-limited conversations on Twitter in which anybody may take part by using a common ‘hashtag’ – a single word preceded by a hash (#) character. Pharma companies hosting a tweet chat do so by announcing the time and topic of a chat and typically stimulate engagement through a series of conversation-starting questions.

‘Hashtags are like campfires: people gather around them to have conversations,’ claims Twitter in its case study of Boehringer Ingelheim’s (BI) COPD Twitter campaign. The ‘fire’ analogy is particularly appropriate: just like a tweet chat, a campfire can be a safe place where people share stories, but this environment needs good planning to keep it safe.

A brief history of pharma tweet chats

The first ever pharma-hosted tweet chat was, I believe, AstraZeneca’s (AZ) #rxsave chat, which took place in early 2011. The chat generated hundreds of tweets from a diverse group of stakeholders. At the time I interviewed Jen McGovern, AZ’s Director of Patient Assistance Programmes. “We thought that using Twitter would help us reach a broader audience of community advocates than through our traditional channels,” she told me. “We wanted feedback on how to operate our prescription assistance programmes more effectively and efficiently to serve patients.”

Even before AZ’s #rxsave chat, Pfizer was an early pioneer of using Twitter to engage patients on health topics. In 2010 it launched @ManMOTUK, a Twitter profile for UK audiences in collaboration with the Men’s Health Forum. The company actively encouraged men to talk directly and confidentially with doctors about sensitive health matters during weekly live surgeries hosted on its ManMOT website. Although not strictly a tweet chat, Twitter hashtag #manmot was used to promote the initiative. The ManMOT campaign channels have since been handed over to the Men’s Health Forum, which continues to operate them.

Other pharma tweet chat examples

Here’s a brief summary of some notable pharma tweet chats.

BI: #ChatAfib

BI hosted its first tweet chat during the European Society of Cardiology Congress in September 2013. Participants included HCPs, patients and patient groups and the company subsequently repeated the tweet chat in 2014, with increasing levels of participation.


Just days after its #ChatAfib chat, BI hosted the first of several #COPDChat chats, a collaboration with Key Opinion Leader Professor Andrew McIvor during the European Respiratory Society Congress in September 2013. BI used Twitter’s Promoted Tweets – sponsored tweets targeted to appear in users’ timelines or search results – to build awareness and invite people to take part in the chat.

Boehringer advertised its #COPDChat using Promoted Tweets


Pfizer: #JWCChat

Pfizer’s #JWCChat, in partnership with caregiving advocacy group AARP, focused on caregiving, aligned with National Family Caregiving Month in November 2013. The chat formed part of the company’s ‘Get Old’ campaign and the hashtag #JWCChat linked with ‘Juggling Work and Caregiving’, a book by Amy Goyer sponsored by Pfizer.

Celgene: #HemChat

Celgene has run several #HemChat tweet chats since 2014, partnering with Key Opinion Leader Mike Thompson MD and patient advocate @MyelomaTeacher.

Celgene promotes its tweet chat with patient and HCP partners


Novartis Oncology: #AskCML

Novartis Oncology partnered with Portuguese oncologist Antonio Almeida MD in September 2014 to mark International CML Awareness Day.

Novartis tweets details of its #AskCML tweet chat


Novartis Oncology: #MBCADchat

Novartis hosted an Advanced Breast Cancer tweet chat with Key Opinion Leader Dr Adam Brufsky in October 2014.

Takeda Oncology: #survivorshipcare

In partnership with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, this chat featured oncologist Miguel Perales MD in June 2015.

Oncologist Miguel Perales promotes Takeda Oncology’s #survivorshipcare tweet chat


Sanofi Diabetes: #2015ADA

Sanofi Diabetes placed a tweet chat straight on to congress Twitter hashtag #2015ADA during the American Diabetes Association (ADA) meeting. In keeping with Sanofi’s track record of stimulating social media use among stakeholders, the chat topic focused on social media and was directed well away from product or therapy discussions. During the chat, Sanofi reached out directly to stakeholders including healthcare professionals who were already engaged in the ADA meeting.

Sanofi hosted a tweet chat on the ADA congress’ existing Twitter hashtag #2015ADA


Johnson & Johnson Careers: #JNJVets

Johnson & Johnson used a tweet chat to engage military veterans in a recruitment-orientated tweet chat, JNJVets, in July 2015.

What does running a tweet chat look like? @JNJCareers posted a photo of its team in the #JNJVets tweet chat


The next article will explore what makes a successful pharma tweet chat and share some tips from the field.

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts by commenting below about your own favourite pharma tweet chats.

About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO of Creation Healthcare where he coaches healthcare organisations on effective engagement in the digital age. He can be contacted at @EngagementStrat or

Read more from Daniel Ghinn:

Pharma gets social: Tesaro discovers the power of the e-patient