Pharma and twitter – who is doing it and why?

Written by Silja on 16 February 2009 in pharma twittersphere - 39 Comments

Much discussion on  leading patient blogs around twitter lately.

According to Pew Internet’s new report on twitter and status updating, 11% of Americans currently use twitter with e-patient’s being even more likely to use it (exact number to be discussed in Susannah’s upcoming report). So, if patients are on twitter, this must be a channel of interest for pharma, correct? Well, as Amy from Diabetesmine points out in this post, pharma is not quite ready yet to embrace twitter (and social media in general for this matter).

Why? I believe this has a lot to do with organizational readiness and shifting gears in the minds of management. I also believe that there exists a good deal of simple ignorance and thus fear of the unknown (Based my limited sample and experience, I would estimate the use of twitter by pharma executives below the 11% average – anyone have some figures on this?).

So I had a quick (and most likely incomplete) look at  pharmaco twitter accounts. (Please help me complete this list, the idea is to create an up-to-date pharma twitter directory ;-) )

Here is who I found so far:

JNJ just set up a corporate twitter account after the highly personalized twitter approach, led by much admired social media artist and blogger Marc Monseau. Read more about his rationale.

As a native German, I also was very excited to find Boehringer Ingelheim on twitter (See, us Euros can twitter as well ;-) Just like JNJ, this is a real person twittering and participating in many of the conversations. Like the twitter healthcare group for example.

AstraZenca US is sending interesting tweets around access programs, healthcare reform and strategy. I tried a couple of other languages and countries, but it seems AZ twitters in US only at the moment.

While Novartis corporate communications in Switzerland twitters with a clear focus on sending their existing press releases through this new channel for right now.

Pfizer is on twitter since last week, providing news updates, but it says unofficial, hmm? – thanks Miguel

Generical (ex is the unofficial tweet by an employee of a global generic pharmaceutical company – thanks PierreYves and check out his great list of healthcare related twitter accounts

I  found inactive twitter accounts with the handle Pfizer, Allergan, Amgen and Merck (Merck is reserved by brandigital). So we might see some upcoming twitter activity there soon?

GSK, Sanofi, Roche and Abbott handles exist but no relation to pharma I’m afraid ;-)

To sum up, four five major pharma corporations are active on twitter. All of them quiet recently, within the last 6 monhts. And it looks as though more are to take the “plunge“ soon. This is exciting news, and definately a step in the right direction. It is, however, important to keep the objective in mind. Simply being on twitter and not participating or shuffing out useless information is not going to help patients. For successful use of Twitter, the strategy has to be to inform patients and to provide information that is going to help them either access or adhere to treatment (easier, cheaper or quicker).

UPDATE 23-04:

doseofdigital wiki on pharma and healthcare social media revealed a couple more pharma twitter accounts:

Roche and GE Healthcare – Welcome to the twittersphere ;-)

Check out the wiki for many more great pharma social media examples

39 Comments on "Pharma and twitter – who is doing it and why?"

  1. Brad at Pharma 16 February 2009 at 15 h 45 min ·

    Your sum up is definitely important. The difficulty here in the US is how Big Pharma can use Social Media to connect with the patients and physicians they serve. Because of the regulations in the industry, we have to follow very strict guidelines in those communications. I’m sure that legal teams are working like mad to help marketers, communicators, and PR people to clear appropriate and *useful* messages. In the meantime, the key is finding people who *already* are having meaningful conversations with patients, physicians, and caregivers without Big Pharma. The way to do this right, IMHO, is to find people who are sharing information of value and support them… either by getting them access to more information, direct communication to some of the researchers involved… getting some direct patient interaction in areas that are allowable under current regulations… whereever those are. Ok. Back to the grdinstone. #iwork@novartis

  2. Silja 16 February 2009 at 16 h 01 min ·

    Thank you Brad and I could not agree more with your comment.

    Legal restrictions are to be taken very seriously, but in the mean time pharma can already add value by providing content where it is most needed to those who can use it best (like some of the bloggers in my blog roll for example ;-)

    I also believe that a lot of legal issues are more organizational unpreparedness issues… hmm you give me an idea for another post…

  3. sysengr 17 February 2009 at 5 h 26 min ·

    Brad is on top of it again… social media boils down to communities and the information circulating within them. As a Life Sciences company, we are not only committed to the patient and outcomes but also to supporting the caregivers who are critical to the process. Helping to bring these people together in community and assisting in getting important and beneficial information to and from them to each other (in a regulatory-friendly way…) has added a new dimension to patient assistance. And while this will certainly place additional burdens on the physician to keep on top of the information flow, overall this has to be a good thing! #iwork@novartis

  4. Silja 17 February 2009 at 11 h 08 min ·

    great comment. You bring up a very important and interesting point about the impact on the physician/patient relationship. Some physicians in the US already have successfully taken on this challenge: Check out “patient 2.0, meet doctor 2.0“ (
    Most physicians, however have not as much warmed up to the concept and I believe pharma can play a role in bringing about the necessary “change management, by training physicians on the use of these new technologies and providing them with insights into patient needs and feedback from the online community.

  5. Pierre-Yves 17 February 2009 at 18 h 34 min ·

    Thanks Silja for mentioning biogeekblog!
    It’s interesting to see Pharma laying hands on twitter accounts… and actually not using them, for all the reasons discussed in the previous comments.
    But the companies doing this are right I think.
    It kinda reminds me the early days of the web, when domain names were bought by people who tried to sell them back to companies afterward.
    Every pharma/healthcare company should set up an account today, IMHO !

  6. Sally 17 February 2009 at 22 h 00 min ·

    As a former Pharma marketing person, I can definitely see the pros and cons of social media such as Twitter.

    On the pro side, it’s a great way to reach out and communicate a consistent message while also interacting with customers (doctors) and consumers (patients).

    On the con side, handling the legal-medico-regulatory interface in a highly regulated marketplace is always going to be a challenge, but one that can be navigated with common sense. We used to monitor online patients groups and forums such as Yahoo Groups successfully and the information is often very helpful not only for understanding what is going on behind the scenes in clinical trials or how patients are responding/coping with side effects but it is also useful for driving change based on real data.

  7. Kerri. 18 February 2009 at 16 h 59 min ·

    I think that companies can really tap into what their market is thinking/doing/desiring by following members of their target market on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. To that same end, consumers (patients) can be kept up-to-date on developments from companies they trust their care to.

    The more Pharma can learn about its patients, the better off their company will be.

    - Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme)

  8. Laurie DesAutels 23 February 2009 at 18 h 10 min ·

    I think Facebook and Twitter is a great resource for connecting with individuals worldwide in the Pharmaceutical industry. is a great directory to research by industry. Also, you can list your profile on

    Follow me!

  9. Tom Legrand 24 February 2009 at 17 h 38 min ·

    STAR (Pharma Recruitment Company) are on both Facebook and Twitter! Me and my colleague Rich are on Twitter, and we invite our candidates to follow us in order to get updates on our latest vacancies live as they come in! Our Facebook group is slightly more established, and similar to other pharma groups out there (i.e. giving latest industry news, and opportunities to discuss current pharma events), but we also advertise our latest vacancies on there, giving our candidates more ways to find out about what vacancies we have.

  10. Veronica 18 March 2009 at 23 h 58 min ·

    One more potential use of Pharma on twitter: Accelerating recruitment of patients for trials (and supporting disease / product awareness at the same time).
    Check this out:

  11. Silja 22 March 2009 at 21 h 48 min ·

    Thanks Veronica for your comment and great article on twitter and trial recruitement.

  12. Bart Vickers 21 July 2009 at 21 h 22 min ·

    I worry a little bit about the Pew data; the 11% number they quote could include Facebook, which is an entirely different animal (and much easier place for pharma to be, for a variety of reasons). Twitter still has some fairly serious “stickiness” issues, but it’s low cost of entry tends to compensate for that.

    From a strategic perspective (and boy, do pharma clients need strat right now; they’re bombarded with random social tactics) I’d ultimately include both, but FB first.

  13. Silja 21 July 2009 at 23 h 19 min ·

    Hi Bart,

    I do not believe it is about doing either/or. I think you need to first decide who you want to engage with, then analyze where they go (is it facebook or twitter or both?), then determine whether and how you can add value and ONLY then say: let’s go for facebook, twitter, both or maybe something completely different altogether ;-)

  14. Bart Vickers 21 July 2009 at 23 h 36 min ·


    That absolutely speaks to my point on strategy. Has to be strategy first–who are we connecting with and for what purpose. That will then tell us the various modes and channels that make sense (and let’s not forget to integrate with the rest of our marketing efforts) both for our clients and their audiences.

    More broadly, I do tend to wonder if Twitter is a bit of a tempest in a teacup. Not a fad per se, but its surface numbers tend to contradict its real “usefulness.” For example, compare the average time on site, frequency of use for Twitter against Facebook and the shine rubs off of Twitter pretty quickly. And rather than using it as a social tool, most commercial uses of Twitter are as another broadcast channel.

    While I’m a fan of Pew, I worry that they may be emphasizing “Twitter” to get more traction/eyeballs. It’s hot, all of us marketers are a bit agog about it, and our pharma clients are either fascinated or terrified by it. Maybe both. But note Pew’s words: “…a service like Twitter or another service that allowed them to share updates about themselves or to see the updates of others.” As a poster on another thread put it, that’s like saying 90% of Americans get to work by bus or another type of motorized vehicle.

    Overall, what I love about the social space is that it is constantly changing. Just a few years ago Xanga was all the rage. I’d bet that this post is the first time that many readers have heard of it. SecondLife has peaked and fallen into the background, and MySpace is in decline. Facebook at some point will lose popularity as well. One of the biggest values we can bring to our clients is to be continuously watching, listening, and anticipating the community migrations.



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  18. Frederick Vijverman 3 December 2010 at 15 h 22 min ·

    Thnx for the post!

    Do you have a recent update of the pharma companies that are on twitter?

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