Pharma gets social: How pharma uses social media to engage oncologists at ASCO 2013 conference

In his latest ‘pharma gets social’ article, Daniel Ghinn discusses the use of social media at ASCO this year.

(Continued from “Pharma gets social: Sanofi Iberia equips doctors for digital engagement“)

Last month saw the Annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago. This year’s conference attracted over 30,000 attendees, of whom over 80% are professionals, according to ASCO.

The four-day conference provides a concentration of health stakeholders with an interest – or even a passion – for oncology, and is an essential environment for companies with oncology products to engage customers.

With so many healthcare professionals together under one roof, social media provides an opportunity for companies to integrate their conference presence with digital engagement.

“…social media provides an opportunity for companies to integrate their conference presence with digital engagement.”

A diverse range of social media tactics were used by pharma and biotech companies at ASCO this year. “HCPs: Visit booth 19045 at #ASCO13 to learn about BI’s robust and growing #oncology #pipeline”, tweeted Boehringer Ingelheim from its US Twitter account, @BoehringerUS using the conference hashtag, #ASCO13.

#ASCO13 hashtag

The #ASCO13 hashtag featured around 13,000 times during the two-week period from 27 May to 9th June, with the vast majority of these mentions being on Twitter and a fraction – around 100 – on Facebook.

A brief study of top contributors to the #ASCO13 conversation reveals that among the top contributors to the conversation, 45% were oncologists, whilst 10% were healthcare companies – the top 50 contributors included five major pharma or biotech companies.

The table below shows the top five pharma or biotech companies ranked by number of #ASCO13 tweets sent, with the rate at which the account was mentioned by others versus sent tweets being reflected in the ‘response ratio’.

As the table shows, whilst Novartis ranked as the most active on Twitter, Roche was mentioned the most by other social media users during the conference.

Given the high proportion of specialist HCPs at a meeting such as ASCO, and the relatively high number of mentions that the most active pharma companies gained among participants, it is clear that social media has the potential to be a useful platform for HCP engagement by pharma and biotech companies. Tweets to or from these five companies alone numbered more than 1,100 and accounted for 9% of all ASCO tweets.

GSK creates a niche channel for conferences

GSK’s social media engagement was channelled via its dedicated @GSK_conferences Twitter account, which it says is for “tweets from GSK employees attending scientific conferences”. The company created a niche channel with this account, which it first used at ASCO in 2012 and has just 726 followers.

“…social media has the potential to be a useful platform for HCP engagement by pharma and biotech companies.”


The @GSK_conferences channel allows GSK to separate conference engagement from its mainstream corporate social media engagement channels. This gives the company the flexibility to tweet responsively in conferences without adding noise to its corporate social media channels such as its Twitter account at @GSK, which has over 25,000 followers.

Genentech engages with dedicated ASCO website

Two weeks before ASCO, Genentech published a Youtube video sharing its team’s preparation for the conference. The simple video, entitled ‘Gearing up for ASCO’, has been viewed over 25,000 times.

The heart of Genentech’s engagement is not in the pre-conference video however but in the website that the video promotes: Genentech’s dedicated resource to support its ASCO activity, including news updates, data, and infographics. The site encourages engagement, with social media sharing tools alongside articles supporting Genentech’s conference content. Genentech’s media team at the conference is introduced with individual Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, and the site includes a live feed of the company’s ASCO tweets.

Figure 1: Genentech’s dedicated ASCO website at

What next?

As social media continues to be an increasingly important tool for HCPs to learn and collaborate with peers, its use in congress meetings will carry on growing. ASCO 2013 shows how pharma and biotech companies are responding to the opportunity by taking part in digital conversations around meetings.

Those companies currently engaging stakeholders around events such as ASCO have the opportunity to learn from their experiences and continue to innovate in this arena, supporting worldwide conversation well beyond the conference itself.


About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO of Creation Healthcare, the research and training consultancy to healthcare for the digital age, which studies the behaviour of doctors using social media. He tweets at @EngagementStrat and can be reached at

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