Pharma Gets Social: Sanofi engages the diabetes online community via Twitter

Daniel Ghinn

Creation Healthcare

Daniel Ghinn discusses the social media efforts of Sanofi, looking in particular at how the pharma company uses Twitter to engage with the online diabetes community.

(Continued from “Pharma gets social – social media brings Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company closer to people”)

While presenting a recent study into doctors talking about diabetes in public social media channels, I pointed out that among the most popular diabetes topics being discussed by healthcare professionals (HCPs) worldwide on Twitter were the names of just two organizations: Diabetes UK, and Sanofi.



Figure 1: The most-mentioned diabetes topics discussed by HCPs on social media

It was not surprising to see Diabetes UK, a leading charity dedicated to diabetes, among the most mentioned topics. But to see Sanofi’s name – the only pharmaceutical company included among HCPs’ most popular topics – reflected a direct connection between diabetes and the Sanofi name in conversations between doctors using social media.

In the light of this data it would be natural for any pharma marketer interested in engaging stakeholders via social media to ask why doctors are talking about Sanofi and diabetes, and what role Sanofi has played in creating this ‘buzz’.


“It was not surprising to see Diabetes UK, a leading charity dedicated to diabetes, among the most mentioned topics.”


So in this article I will explore engagement by Sanofi with stakeholders via Twitter, with a focus on the outcomes achieved in online relationships and influence.

Firstly, the word cloud in figure 1 shows the most-mentioned topics by HCPs discussing diabetes. Among over 13,000 Tweets in the study, which analysed mentions of diabetes by HCPs worldwide in English, Spanish, German and Dutch languages between January and March 2013, Sanofi was mentioned over 100 times. So on average, for every 130 times a doctor mentions diabetes in social media, at least one of these diabetes mentions will also name Sanofi.

These mentions include a significant amount of direct dialogue with the company, such as messages sent to @Diabetes_Sanofi, the company’s dedicated diabetes Twitter profile, or sharing of the company’s tweets with others as retweets (RTs).

Integrating digital channels

The @Diabetes_Sanofi Twitter profile is described as “An official Sanofi US Diabetes Twitter feed. Laura, Lindsey, Susan &amp, Michele tweet on diabetes info &amp, tips to live a healthier lifestyle.” Including first names of the diabetes team, and their photos on the Twitter profile page, provides a sense of personality to the corporate profile and sets the tone for personal engagement with individuals.


“Including first names of the diabetes team, and their photos on the Twitter profile page, provides a sense of personality…”


Sanofi’s digital engagement with diabetes stakeholders is not only via Twitter. At the heart of its digital engagement platforms is a website at which is a portal to resources and integrates with other channels. Among these is the Sanofi Diabetes Facebook page which, with over 6,000 ‘likes’, has a similar number of followers to the Twitter profile.

Who does @Diabetes_Sanofi engage with?

Looking closely at the @Diabetes_Sanofi Twitter profile, it is clear that the company’s direct engagement on diabetes includes all kinds of stakeholders including patient advocacy groups, patients, healthcare professionals, pharmacies and clinics. Among the most mentioned Tweeters by @Diabetes_Sanofi are the American Diabetes Association (@amdiabetesassn), dieticians (such as @nutritionjill), drugstore chain Walgreens (@walgreens), Joslin Diabetes Center (@joslindiabetes), and diabetes patients and advocates (such as @sixuntilme and @askmanny), as well as writers and journalists.

Sanofi does not merely retweet others’ tweets, but encourages discussion by posting questions to stimulate debate, such as the question below asking “Do you think #diabetes is portrayed accurately &amp, fairly in the #media? Why or why not?”. This was retweeted eight times and received seven public responses, while those engaged with the tweet included both patients and healthcare professionals.



Figure 2: Sanofi’s tweet asking for views received seven public Twitter responses and eight retweets, engaging patients and healthcare professionals in the conversation.


Healthcare professionals who retweet Sanofi’s tweets include endocrinologists, nurses, and registered dieticians. They share conversations with Sanofi as fellow members of what has become known as the ‘Diabetes Online Community’, or DOC, a largely patient-led movement of bloggers, tweeters and social media users affected by diabetes.


“It was clear from the start that the company’s intention was to engage, not merely publish content.”


Figure 3: This tweet shared by Sanofi from the American Diabetes Association was then retweeted by others including an endocrinologist in Venezuela (source:


What does this mean for pharma in social media?

Sanofi took a lead last year among pharmaceutical companies in developing focused social media channels around diabetes. It was clear from the start that the company’s intention was to engage, not merely publish content.

The encouraging evidence from Sanofi’s activity is that it is possible for a pharmaceutical company to immerse itself into an online community using public social media channels, engage a wide range of relevant stakeholders including doctors, and play a credible, respected role in that community.

Daniel’s next article will go live on 16th May.


About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO at Creation Healthcare, the research and training consultancy for the digital healthcare age and producers of Creation Pinpoint, the world’s first social media monitoring tool dedicated to analysing conversations between doctors.

Daniel may be reached via Twitter @EngagementStrat or by email

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