Which big pharma firms are best at digital?

Views & Analysis

New research by The Worldcom Public Relations Group has ranked pharmaceutical companies according to their usage of digital channels – with Bayer, Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim coming out on top.

However, the report – called the Digital Health Monitor – also notes that many large pharmaceutical companies are not optimising online and social media communications to their advantage.

The research looked at how 25 global pharmaceutical firms manage their online and social media presence globally and in 20 countries.

It ranks each company in terms of their presence on, and the use of, Apps, Blogs Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube.

The total scores and rankings were as follows:


1. Bayer 245.5
2. Pfizer 228
3. Boehringer Ingelheim 222.5
4. Novartis 202.5
5. Sanofi 198
6. AstraZeneca 196
7. GlaxoSmithKline 190
8. AbbVie 186
9. Johnson and Johnson 182.5
10. Roche 179.5
11. Eli Lilly 177.5
12. Novo Nordisk 173
13. Allergan 171.5
14. Takeda 171
15. Abbott 164.5
16. Biogen 162
17. Merck 159
18. Bristol-Myers Squibb 157.5
19. Astellas Pharma 155.5
20. Amgen 150
21. Baxter International 146
22. Mylan 145
23. Teva Pharmaceutical 141.5
24. Shire 97
25. Gilead Sciences 70


Serge Beckers, chairman of Worldcom’s Healthcare practice group, said that the digital strategies at the top of the list are “are all about volumes”.

“The authors called the lack of local websites a 'lost opportunity'”

“The companies that score best tend to be present not only on their corporate channels, but also on local channels (on country level, that is). And they tend to post more messages than the others.”

The report found, however, that none of the companies used these channels to maximum advantage.

“Due to the regulations, it is much easier to talk about corporate things (nice to know) than about the things that are much more relevant to the target groups, i.e. the diseases and how to cure them (need to know),” said Beckers.

“While we recognise there are limitations to what can be said and where it can be said, we recommend a more holistic view be taken with channels available.”

“Simple steps, such as using YouTube to build the employer brand, can help pharma companies compete in the increasingly tough battle for talent.”

The Digital Health Monitor also examined messages about pharmaceutical companies and those issued by the companies reviewed. While most are neutral, there are a number of negative messages around topics such as opioid abuse, bribery and corruption.

“As long as excessive profits are being made on the one end and people are dying on the other end, people will be negative about the pharma industry,” said Beckers. “People typically are very cynical about pharma, so the communications department first has to earn trust before it can ‘sell’ the company and its products.

“We advise the pharmaceutical companies we work for to be transparent in their corporate communication. We all know that the pharma sector is an industry where massive investments are required. Most people will understand that if you invest heavily and therefore run a big risk, your profits will be higher than for people who are not willing to invest. But the public doesn’t know enough about the high break-even points. If you are transparent about the financials as a pharma company, and show how the investment and revenue streams run and why you will very likely see less negative content about your company.”

Use of channels

All pharmaceutical companies in the study have a worldwide website, but many of them do not offer local websites in all countries surveyed. The authors called this a “lost opportunity” to demonstrate that specific countries and their populations matter to the brand.

The Monitor found that Twitter is preferred to Facebook as a social media. All pharmaceutical companies in the list have an international Twitter account, but two companies – Mylan and Shire – do not have an international Facebook page.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn accounts are present, but no pharmaceutical company reaches 50 percent of the available score. This is mainly due to the fact that country-specific pages on LinkedIn are not common.

The authors say it is “surprising” that YouTube “does not seem to belong to the standard communication arsenal of most pharmaceutical companies”. Local YouTube accounts are available in only a handful of countries.

The use of the remaining channels, i.e., Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, and Tumblr is modest. Pharma companies also make little use of their own blogs –  although almost all them have a 'global blog,' the number of blog posts is fairly modest and local blogs are rare.

Nevertheless, the Monitor noted that pharma is doing better with apps – with most companies having efficient, target group centered apps.

The authors concluded with five recommendations to improve ROI from online communications:

  • Companies should ensure there is a careers channel on YouTube where ‘advocate employees’ can post reviews of their experiences to promote an ‘employer brand’. This will help win the battle for talent.
  • Review the usage of the digital channels most used by target audiences. Companies should ensure their brand is present at both a global and local level.
  • Compare one’s digital ‘footprint’ to that of your peers and competitors. This audit will help ensure companies are not losing ground by missing opportunities to share permitted information across all available channels.
  • Invest in each local market by investing in appropriate local digital channels. This helps demonstrate that companies care about each local market.
  • Companies should use the analysis from online monitoring to identify topics where it’s essential they have an opinion and share that opinion on a proactive basis.

Beckers concluded: “Where PR used to be a synonym for media relations, that is obviously no longer the case. If you neglect digital, you neglect numerous communication channels and millions of targets, regardless of what your goal is: reputation, sales, employee search, etc.”

The full report can be download here