Pharma gets social: world’s top pharma on Facebook


Daniel Ghinn

Creation Healthcare

This month, Daniel Ghinn takes a look at how the top 15 pharmaceutical companies around the world use the social media channel, Facebook.

(Continued from “Pharma gets social: How top pharma use Twitter in corporate communications”)

Among digital channels embraced or ignored by pharmaceutical companies, Facebook is associated with some of the most challenging and inspiring stories of engagement. I have previously written about many of these, from early adopters of Facebook engagement such as GlaxoSmithKline to the patient-led Facebook initiative attacking K-V Pharmaceuticals.

Evidence shows that the Internet’s role in the globalisation of information extends to healthcare engagement too. Stakeholders from patients and carers to healthcare professionals and providers actively exchange experiences and ideas with each other across a global landscape using social media channels.

And while Twitter is the fastest-growing social media platform, Facebook still dominates by a huge margin. According to GlobalWebIndex, Facebook has twice as many active users as the other leading social media platforms Google+, YouTube and Twitter.


"Evidence shows that the Internet’s role in the globalisation of information extends to healthcare engagement too."


An analysis of major pharmaceutical companies on Facebook should therefore provide an interesting perspective on the industry’s approach to global healthcare engagement. I have briefly reviewed and compared here the approaches taken by the world’s largest 15 pharmaceutical companies*. What I discovered is a vast gap between those who have deliberately embraced a global engagement strategy through social media and those who have chosen not to.

The breakdown

Let’s start with a summary of each company’s primary global Facebook page, where one exists. By primary Facebook page I mean the Facebook page that is most obvious, or appears to be the most widely used, or is primarily promoted on the company’s website.

I have ranked these not by number of ‘Likes’, which would be somewhat meaningless given the variety of different page functions and company sizes, but instead by an engagement score which I have based on the number of people ‘talking about’ the page – that is, sharing, liking, and commenting on posts – as a percentage of the number of ‘Likes’. So a high engagement score reflects that a high percentage of the people who ‘Like’ or follow a particular page are engaged with it.


Figure 1: Primary global Facebook pages of 15 major pharma companies ranked for engagement

The table above illustrates how growth in followers, or ‘Likes’, is not directly proportional to levels of engagement. Although GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer have the highest number of ‘Likes’ and people ‘Talking about’ their pages, the engagement ratio is low. This perhaps reflects a surge in followers at a particular time or campaign, many of whom may be less engaged later on. GlaxoSmithKline, for example, gained a significant growth in Facebook following around the company’s sponsorship of the London Olympics in 20121.

A global Facebook engagement strategy?

The presence or lack of a global Facebook page provides an interesting glimpse into a company’s global healthcare engagement strategy. Some companies have established a single worldwide platform for social engagement with all stakeholders. That is not to say this is their only approach, most of these also have separate Facebook pages dedicated to in-country engagement, disease areas or specific communications functions.


"The presence or lack of a global Facebook page provides an interesting glimpse into a company’s global healthcare engagement strategy."


Of the world’s fifteen largest pharmaceutical companies, only six – Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson &amp, Johnson, Novartis, Pfizer, and Teva – have a Facebook page dedicated to global corporate engagement, that is, where any stakeholder can engage the company. Two companies – Bristol-Myers Squibb and Takeda – have no clear Facebook presence at all visible to a global audience (although it is technically possible that they have implemented a country-restricted page that I was unable to access).

There’s no such thing as no global Facebook page

There are many good reasons why a company might choose to avoid publishing a Facebook page. Adopting a strategy of corporate global social media engagement is likely to require cultural change, dedicated human and technical resources, and will certainly impact how colleagues across the company work together. As Boehringer’s John Pugh said: “If we get something in Spanish I’ll go and speak with my Spanish colleague, and he’ll whizz it back.”2

When Facebook made two-way engagement mandatory in 2011, by removing the option for pharmaceutical companies to publish pages without allowing comments, some pharmaceutical companies closed down their Facebook pages while they decided what to do next. For others, like GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim, who had already deliberately embraced two-way engagement on Facebook, the policy change did not affect them. These two remain among the leading examples of global corporate Facebook engagement in pharma today and prove the value of hands-on experience in social media, like Johnson &amp, Johnson who pioneered two-way social media engagement through blogging and YouTube as far back as 2008.

For a global company however, there is no such thing as having no global Facebook page. The only choice for a pharmaceutical company is whether or not to take control of that page. Take the example of AstraZeneca, whose primary promoted Facebook page is its ‘US Community Connections’ page, which is for the ‘US Business’. Global stakeholders searching for the company on Facebook will find among their options a page claiming to be AstraZeneca’s but populated by extensive criticism of the company.


"As would be expected on a page serving a disease community, engagement is relatively high among followers of the page..."


Disease focus

Other companies with ‘unclaimed’ Facebook pages in this review include Amgen, which does not have a Facebook page dedicated to global corporate engagement. Amgen instead promotes its ‘Breakaway from Cancer’ campaign as its primary Facebook presence. As would be expected on a page serving a disease community, engagement is relatively high among followers of the page, but in the huge therapy area of cancer, this page has only 755 likes.

There is much more to be said about excellent examples of disease focus Facebook pages, and many of the reviewed companies have successful disease pages that I have not included here.

The who, where, why and how of Facebook engagement

Among the fifteen companies reviewed, there are broadly three kinds of approach to engagement:

1. Those who deliberately use Facebook as an engagement channel, encouraging two-way dialogue and responding to comments. Included in this group is GlaxoSmithKline, whose terms of use state “…we welcome your comments”.

2. Those who primarily use Facebook as a broadcast channel for publishing content. Among these there are some who appear to delete most comments and rarely if ever respond publicly.

3. Those who do neither of the above because they avoid Facebook altogether. Among our reviewed companies there was no obvious deliberate corporate communication Facebook presence for Bristol-Myers Squibb or Takeda, although some of their associated companies do use Facebook.

In this brief review, I have taken a basic look at some aspects of Facebook engagement. A much more interesting, but lengthy, approach would be to analyse not just how many people are engaging, but who and where they are, and the role they play as stakeholders. I have paid insufficient attention to the ‘why’ of Facebook pages, the fundamental reason why a pharmaceutical company is or is not using Facebook. All that is for another day…

Next month, I will take a look at an example of the integration of social media channels.




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




Disclaimer and caveats: This review is intended to stimulate conversation around how to analyse the effectiveness of Facebook as a global engagement tool for pharmaceutical companies. I hope it does that in a constructive way.

Data on Facebook figures was taken on a day mid February 2013. I have quoted or used other information available to me at the time of writing and have also made some assumptions about purpose or intent which I hope are fair. If I have mentioned your company or your work, I realise that I have made some comparisons which might seem out of context compared with your strategy. Please do connect with me if you feel I have misrepresented facts.

* World’s largest pharmaceutical companies based on revenues, 2012 published data. Included in this is Abbott which has subsequently become two companies, Abbott and Abbvie.

About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is CEO of Creation Healthcare, the research and training consultancy to pharma and healthcare.

He may be tweeted at @EngagementStrat or emailed at

Should pharma encourage two-way engagement through Facebook?


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20 February, 2013