A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 4 – Twitter

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 3 – websites

With over 140 million “Tweets” sent every day and over 400,000 people joining on a daily basis, is this something worth ignoring as part of your communications?

Twitter is a microblogging service that allows you to read, write or share a message in 140 characters (a “Tweet”). Other Twitter users can subscribe to your messages by following your account and where you follow other people their messages will be displayed in your timeline. For a great overview of Twitter it’s worth checking out the following video.

Twitter in Plain English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o

The importance of Twitter grows daily as it’s an amazing service for checking out the latest information in real time (many people found out about the recent Japanese earthquake on Twitter before the mainstream news channels). With the launch of monitoring services such as Google Real Time Search (see this video) it’s a must to be Tweeting or at least using Twitter to monitor what people are saying about your brand. Used in the right way, Twitter can be the ultimate customer service tool.

To get started, simply go to Twitter.com and register to setup your account, with a username that can be personal or a brand (provided it’s not already been taken). Your homepage on Twitter will take the URL format of twitter.com/yournameorbrand. Once you have set up your account you’re ready to go and can start following people or posting your own Tweets.


“Used in the right way, Twitter can be the ultimate customer service tool.”


Like many social media services, Twitter has a whole language built up around it, so here is a glossary of some of the common terms.

Mention – To mention another user in your Tweet simply put an @ sign just before their twitter username, e.g. “great article by Joe Bloggs on @pharmaphorum”

Retweet (RT) – When you see a Tweet by another user that you want to share, just click “Retweet” below the message and it’s displayed to your followers instantly.

Hashtag – Tweets can be categorised by putting a hashtag (#) in front of certain words, with users able to click on hashtags to show all Tweets that include them (whether or not they are from people your follow). Example hashtags in pharma include #pharma, #hcsm (healthcare social media), #hcsmeu (healthcare social media Europe), #mhealth (mobile healthcare) – go check them out!

Message – You can message users who follow you with a direct message, just like email but in 140 characters, which is a feature accessed on the top navigation bar once you are logged into Twitter.

Favourites – If you like a Tweet by someone you can save this in your favourites, by simply clicking on “Favorite” below the Tweet.

Reply – If you want to reply to a Tweet, simply click on the “Reply” button under the Tweet and type away in the “What’s happening” box. This will automatically include @username for the person you are replying to at the start of your Tweet.

Trends – These are the most popular topics on Twitter right now, including promoted Tweets that are advertisements by brands.

Lists – You can create a list of people with similar characteristics so that others can follow them too, for example people in pharma you regularly follow. To create a list simply click on “Lists” (just under the “What’s happening” box), then create a list, give it a title and description and just start adding people.

Who to follow – This is displayed on the right hand side of your page and it recommends people with similar interests to you and your Tweets (including promoted accounts).

Links – adding a website URL can be done easily by just pasting into your “What’s happening” box, but usually URLs take up most of your 140 characters so it’s best to use a link shortener tool like http://goo.gl/.


“Be transparent about your brand, be honest and don’t just put out a stream of sales messages.”


Like any new social media site, it’s very inviting to just dive in and start engaging with people. That’s fine, but it’s worth bearing in mind some best practices to make sure you present yourself in the right way and don’t annoy people!

Our top five best practices for Twitter are:

1. Share – Be transparent about your brand, be honest and don’t just put out a stream of sales messages. People like interaction, not marketing spam!

2. Listen – Start off by using the search box to simply listen and observe what people are saying about your brand. Whether you like what they’re saying or not it will prove useful and let you know what people think before you start replying and commenting.

3. Ask questions – Encourage interaction and feedback by posting questions asking others what they think about your brand or company.

4. Demonstrate leadership – Post articles and references that show thought leadership to your followers and original thinking.

5. Establish a voice – Your Tweets will reflect on your personality, so try not to be pushy, bully people or be nasty. It’s best to simply be honest, open with your opinions and share useful information. Remember – even if you delete a Tweet others may have seen it or shared it before you do, so think before posting!

It’s easy to get obsessed with how many followers you have on Twitter. From a business perspective, having more followers is of course good but don’t end up just chasing numbers – it’s equally important what type of people are following you and how much useful interaction you have.


“…don’t end up just chasing numbers – it’s equally important what type of people are following you and how much useful interaction you have.”


If you focus on adding value and following the tips above, people will naturally want to follow you, but you can also try the following ideas to encourage new people to follow you:

• Post Tweets, links and references that are of interest to your target followers (you can’t get away from this!).

• Ask people to retweet some of your messages, but do so selectively as asking all the time is seen as pushy.

• Join in on trending topics where you have something valuable to say (by adding your comment and using the appropriate hashtag).

• Offer prizes for the 100th etc. follower. Some will of course follow then unfollow if you do this but you should also pick up some genuinely interested people who will stay.

• Integrate your Tweets into your other channels such as Linkedin, Facebook and your website.

Finally, as well as using Twitter directly there are a lot of third-party applications that are available to help you Tweet more efficiently, or simply keep on top of conversations, when you’re not sat at your computer, through the use of a mobile phone.

Some of the best tools for this include:

Tweetdeck: http://www.tweetdeck.com

Seesmic: http://www.seesmic.com

Twitter iPhone app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/twitter/id333903271

More and more Twitter applications are being made available all the time (although there are hints that Twitter may be moving to restrict this!), so a more detailed list of them can be found at http://www.twitdom.com. You can market social media the same way by following your relevant country’s code of practice for marketing pharmaceutical products.

Hopefully that’s enough to get you Tweeting away with the best of them! As always, let us know your comments or questions below or Tweet @pharmaphorum.

Read part 5 – “Facebook” here

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 12 years, having been part of the start-up team at amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been Head of Digital at a leading healthcare agency winning over 15 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal can be found Tweeting here @sickonthenet.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

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