Pharma gets social: How top pharma use Twitter in corporate communications

Daniel Ghinn

Creation Healthcare

Want to know how some of the largest pharmaceutical companies rank in terms of followers and tweets on social networking site Twitter? Daniel Ghinn examines the 140-character tweets of Novartis, Sanofi, GSK and Pfizer, to name a few, in his latest article. Read on to find out how they all scored…

(Continued from “Pharma gets social: YouTube for pharma global communications”)

While Twitter is now well established among social media channels used by pharmaceutical companies, there is still much uncertainty about what is considered ‘appropriate’ engagement activity and a wide range of approaches taken by companies tweeting.

To provide some perspective, this month I have reviewed the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical companies’ use of Twitter for corporate communications, using a number of tools that the team at Creation Healthcare use for analysing social media effectiveness.

I have included what I consider to be the primary global communications Twitter accounts for the world’s largest 15 pharmaceutical companies in this review. Where a global account does not exist, I have taken the most prominent account operated by that company globally, since this is what other Internet users will also see.

Many of the companies reviewed here are also highly active on Twitter through accounts focused on a specific disease area, in-country communications, or in support of a particular cause or campaign, but I have not reviewed these other tactics or accounts here.

For Sanofi, SanofiTV is the company’s primary global social media tool, and it has its own Twitter channel too. So I considered this as Sanofi’s global Twitter account, even though it has several other focused Twitter accounts around the world including @Diabetes_Sanofi operated by Sanofi US.


“…this month I have reviewed the world’s top 15 pharmaceutical companies’ use of Twitter for corporate communications…”


Novo Nordisk’s most global Twitter profile is @novonordisktbl, which it describes as “the official Novo Nordisk voice tweeting about Corporate Sustainability”. It is not, however, intended for residents in the US.

Astellas is one of a number of pharmaceutical companies that appears to have created, but not yet activated, a global Twitter account. The @Astellas Twitter profile has protected tweets and no followers. I have used @AstellasUS as its benchmark ‘global’ corporate Twitter account since this is what global Internet users will see and the description of the account confirms a worldwide perspective.

Do followers matter?

Let’s start with the most obvious, and arguably the most misleading, indicator of Twitter success: follower count. Ranking the accounts I reviewed by follower count shows Pfizer’s @pfizer_news account as the most-followed account, perhaps appropriate for the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, immediately followed by Novartis, the world’s second largest.


Figure 1: The top 15 pharma companies ranked in order of the number of followers on Twitter

To understand more about the potential of these Twitter accounts, however, we will need to look beyond follower counts. I have already written about some of the pharmaceutical companies who are taking a lead in the use of corporate social media profiles to engage directly with stakeholders, such as GSK and Boehringer through their Facebook pages. Engagement with stakeholders is one of the most powerful ways that a pharmaceutical company can use Twitter, but it is certainly not for the uninitiated or faint-hearted.

Many of those who are most successful in social media engagement have started small, and learned through engagement over years of experience. A high follower count has the potential to increase the stakes since any misplaced tweets are seen by more stakeholders, and can make it more painful to learn from mistakes, a practice actively encouraged by some.

Of more interest to pharmaceutical communicators would be an analysis of who those followers are. Do they represent the company’s stakeholders? Do they include customers? And do they respond to tweets sent by the company?

Actively tweeting?

Another indicator of Twitter engagement is volume of tweets sent, or in other words the number of updates sent by a Twitter account over a period of time. Breaking down the pharmaceutical accounts I reviewed by tweets sent from October through to December 2012, we see that Boehringer is the most prolific tweeter, followed by Novartis.


Figure 2: The top 15 pharmaceutical companies ranked in order of the number of tweets sent on Twitter


For pharmaceutical communicators wanting to use Twitter effectively, the number of tweets sent, follower count and an understanding of who those followers are will provide at least an indication of reach. In the world of social media, however, a more interesting indicator to consider might be influence.


“Many of those who are most successful in social media engagement have started small, and learned through engagement over years of experience.”


There are various tools available to measure influence, including Kred, which simply provides an indication of whether or not other people responded to tweets by re-tweeting. The higher a Kred influence score, the more people have re-tweeted (or RT’d) that account.

So for the final ranking, let’s look at Kred influence score, which might be considered as a measure of likely response to tweets, or the relative value per tweet.


Figure 3: The top 15 pharmaceutical companies ranked in order of Kred influence

The companies reviewed rank closely in influence, with Novartis ranked as most influential.

Putting it together

Since Novartis is in the top two for follower count, top two for number of tweets, and top for Kred influence, let’s take a brief look at some other factors that a communicator might consider when assessing effectiveness.

PeerIndex is a tool that also scores influence, and additionally provides insights into exactly who is being influenced. Looking at the PeerIndex page for Novartis’ Twitter account, we see that the twelve accounts most influenced by the company represent a wide range of stakeholders.


Figure 4: The 12 Twitter accounts most influenced by Novartis’ tweets

Included in the company’s most influenced list are industry media contacts such as pharmaphorum’s Paul Tunnah, healthcare professionals including a professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, a patient advocate and cancer researcher, and the Spanish humanitarian medical organisation Medicos Sin Fronteras. It is a truly diverse and global group.

What is Novartis tweeting about?

With any research of this kind, every answer leads to more questions and I cannot resist sharing just one more chart. One of the questions you might ask next is, what is Novartis tweeting about? Let’s look at the key topics in Novartis’ tweets between October and December 2012.


Figure 5: The key topics in Novartis’ tweets between October and December 2012

We see a few prominent conference hashtags: #ASH12 for the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting, #ACR2012 for the American College of Rheumatology, and #AHA12 for the American Heart Association. So we know that Novartis is tweeting around therapy-area meetings.

American talk show host Leeza Gibbons is prominent among tweets, since in October Novartis broadcast a live webcast in the US for Alzheimer’s caregivers with Ms Gibbons.


“…the most obvious, and arguably the most misleading, indicator of Twitter success is follower count.”


Other prominent therapeutic area topics include chronic iron overload, myeloproliferative neoplasms and autoinflammatory disease, terms that take a big chunk out of Twitter’s 140-character limit.

What would you measure?

I hope that the ideas here stimulate some good discussion about what makes an effective approach to Twitter for corporate communications. There is much more to think about too – I have not mentioned the varying extents to which companies choose to follow other Twitter users, for example, and this varies greatly depending on policy and objectives.

At this stage though, one thing is certain: with a continually-increasing number of stakeholders including healthcare professionals actively engaged on Twitter, the channel will continue to grow as an important strategic communications tool for pharmaceutical companies.

Daniel’s next article will go live on 18th February.




About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO at Creation Healthcare, producers of Creation Pinpoint, the world’s first social media monitoring tool dedicated to conversations between doctors.

He may be reached via Twitter @EngagementStrat or by email

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