Pharma twittersphere – who is following you – Part I


Upon popular demand, I decided to kick off this year with an update of my Pharma twittersphere analysis. In this analysis I will compare how many people follow the pharmacos’ twitter accounts (followers), how many people pharmacos’ follow back (following) and the number of times the account is updated  (updates). I will also observe how these parameters  have evolved over the last 6 months (Jul-Dec 09).

I decided take this analysis yet a step further by mapping out in detail WHO is following pharma in its journey into the realms of the twittersphere. This analysis will thus come it two parts:

1. Part one (which you are currently reading) is the update and analysis of the evolution of the top 10 pharma twitter accounts over the past 6 months.

2. Part two (which will be released in the next couple of days) will analyze and map out the followers of the top 5 accounts in terms of

-  the size of the accounts following them are as well as give us an indication of the overlap in the pharma twittersphere following (ie. how many accounts follow several pharma accounts)

-  the segmentation of the accounts by stakeholder (ie. Journalists, advocacy, healthcare professionals etc.).

Please note that this second part of the analysis will be created in collaboration with Ni3, an extremely powerful network visualization platform, that I am applying to the social media arena- but more on that in my next post :)

For Part I of the analysis, I chose to track big pharma’s official corporate communication accounts to keep things comparable.  Included in this analysis, you will thus find the following accounts:

1. @Amgen

2. @AstraZenecaUS

3. @AstraZeneca

4. @Boehringer

5. @genentechnews


7. @JNJComm

8. @Novartis

9. @Pfizer_news

10. @Roche_com

So, let’s have a look at what happened to the twitter followers of our favorite pharma twitter accounts over the last 6 months. A couple of observations jump out from this analysis:


Firstly, the arrival Pfizer – welcome to the twittersphere :) .  Within 5 months on twitter, Pfizer managed to take the lead in terms of followers, overtaking long established “competitors” such as Novartis and Boehringer! Please note that part II of this analysis will dive into much further depth as to the quality and type of followers of these three accounts.

However for now, let us just state the obvious - Pfizer, Novartis and Boehringer lead the pack in terms of followers. Also noteworthy, AstraZeneca, who added a corporate account to its popular US twitter presence and would come in third place, if you added up both accounts.

Secondly, we can note of the impressive growth rate in followers: on average, the pharma accounts doubled their following, with a growth rate of 51% over the past 6 months.

In terms of twitter following, unfortunately, the growth rates are a lot less impressive: 35% growth, mostly driven by Pfizer’s strong arrival, also in terms of following back accounts (congratulations on that as well).


Otherwise though, we still observe the strong divide with Boehringer, JNJ and Pfizer following a large number of accounts, while the rest of the pharma accounts seems to be handcuffed into inertia by legal constraints. One exception to the rule: Roche, who quadrupled its following, whilst staying selective. It thus appears, that Roche has the legal structures in place to expand its outreach, but is deliberately selective about who it chooses to follow back.

Finally, let us re-examine the activity of these twitter accounts by looking at the number of updates or tweets that were sent from them in the past 6 months:


Again, we observe the great divide, already witnessed in terms of following: JNJ, Roche, Boehringer and AstraZenecaUS are the most active participants in the twittersphere. After that we see a sharp drop off, surprisingly also for Pfizer this time.

Finally, let us bring the analysis together in this comparison of all parameters in Jul vs Dec 09 (Please note that the bubble size indicates the number of followers) .



As you can see from these bubble graphs, only Roche and AstraZenecaUS managed to move towards Boehringer and JNJ in the upper quardrant (above average number of followers, following and updates).

I have to say, this analysis confirms my gut feeling based on my personal daily twitter experience: JNJ, Roche, Boehringer and AstraZenecaUS have managed to build relationships with their followers. I know there are people driving these accounts.  I know them by name and I can interact with them.

Why is this important, you will wonder? Well, personally, I am a relationship-driven individual and the promise of engaging with people drives me to use twitter. As Shwen, my much admired pharma social media guru pointed out in this awesome postsocial media humanizes your corporate brand — act like a human!

I am not advocating that to be successful on twitter you have to be above average on all of three dimensions measured here. It is a question of your strategy and in the case of Roche it might be a deliberate choice to carefully select who it is following.

I do, however, feel that a clear strategy is lacking for most of the pharma accounts presented in the lower left quardrant. It seems as though they mistook twitter as another channel to broadcast the same mass media news and underestimated the legal constraints to engaging with their audience, thus failing to reap the benefits of true engagement.

In Part two of this analysis, I hope to demonstrate that the type and quality of the followers you engage with is really what drives the value of your twitter presence. We will have a close up and personal look at the followers of Pfizer, Novartis, Boehringer, JNJ and Roche.

I omitted GSKUS and AstraZencaUS as this would have added another dimension of corporate vs. local accounts to this already complex analysis.

I hope, I raised your interest with this “amuse-bouche” Part I of my analysis and that you are as excited as I am to see Part II. I would greately appreciate if you could  add your thoughts and comments on this part as this could guide our analysis in part II – Coming soon to blogs and twitter accounts near you :-)


Thank you all for the enthusiasm and feedback. Several of you mentioned that the slides and graphics are not easy to read. Please find below the slideshare presentation – including a little sneak preview of the analyis to come :P

13 Comments on "Pharma twittersphere – who is following you – Part I"

  1. Andrew Spong 20 January 2010 at 16 h 09 min ·

    It’s great to see an update of these measures, Silja. Thank you! I am looking forward to Part II already :D

    Some observations:

    It is great to see that Johnny-come-lately account pfizer_news has leapt out of the wings and trounced the early adopters.

    How did they do it?

    Certainly, they began with a tidy all-media offensive to get things off the ground. Above all other things, however, I’d say their ace in the hole was putting a face to a name by adding Jen Kokell’s picture to their twitback. That, and buying followers (joke :) ). I’d be really interested to see if the pace at which pfizer_news attracted users picked up after they took this decision. To my mind, it was a canny one.

    It helps that the mix of interaction, content and corporate news they peddle is generally acceptable, and that they hit their straps quickly. They turned up with some sort of plan (so many others haven’t), and weren’t afraid to adapt. I don’t sense the frosty chill of lawyer scrutiny crackling over their tweets. Maybe Pfizer lawyers do ‘good cop, bad cop’ and bring coffee and bagels for Ray and Jen whilst they grill them as a little light relief from settling $2.3bn lawsuits.

    I don’t think this is Pfizer’s ‘magic sauce’ so much as their being less squeamish about participation than some other corporate accounts still appear to be.

    The performance of the rest of the bunch shows: 1) a three-tier division is emerging (two shown, one not registering); 2) even some of the most successful accounts still have an irrational fear (ie the tightest handcuffs) when it comes to following back; 3) the reticent could now be enjoying the benefits the top accounts are receiving if they’d been bold enough to embark upon the journey in the first place, and 4) (conversely) it’s never too late to make a new beginning (hat tip to pfizer_news)

    Finally, 5) this is further evidence that social media is *not* ‘quick’ and ‘easy’, but that it is something you have to plug away at. Community building and awareness/engagement generation require time, attention, a human face, and an even temperament that can handle cage-rattling troublemakers like (ahem) us :)

  2. Rohit 20 January 2010 at 21 h 16 min ·

    Excellent idea for a post and interesting analysis. I particularly love the point about how social media can be used to humanize brands in this space. If ever there was a category where this was important, it’s pharma. Good to see that more brands seem to be moving into this space, and more importantly that folks are watching and taking notice.

  3. Arthur Alston 22 January 2010 at 11 h 53 min ·

    Hello Silja

    Glad to see that you’ve updated the analysis. Thank you for the trouble and for giving us all something interesting to read.

    To be honest, I am not quite sure what exactly this quantitative analysis tells us – Pfizer leads the pack, but the “so-what” is missing and I hope that part II of the analysis will give us some qualitative insight.

    Then on another note, the nominal numbers involved in following pharma on Twitter is really, really low isn’t it – compared to other industries and personalities. It would be interesting thought exercise to think about the reason for this: is it the fault of pharma, their past or current behaviour, or is it the fault of the general population, i.e. apathy or just not enough interest.

    Regardless, thank you again for your analysis.

  4. R.J. Lewis 10 February 2010 at 2 h 44 min ·

    Nice analysis! Nice to see someone is tracking pharma’s activity. Perhaps you should set up an annual award for Best Twittering Pharma!

  5. generic 30 April 2014 at 15 h 53 min ·


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