Pharma twittersphere – who is following you- Part II


This is Part II of the analysis on pharma’s twitter presence. If you remember, we saw in part I that some pharma companies seem to be more engaged than others on twitter.

Based on visualizing the basic twitter statistics (followers, following and updates), we came to the conclusion that Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson and Roche were leading the pharma pack in terms of engaging with people via twitter. Other twitter accounts, like Novartis and Pfizer on the other hand, whilst being followed by a large number of accounts, appeared to struggle in this regard.


For this second part of the analysis, I thus decided to take a closer look at these 5 pharma twitter accounts :

1. @Boehringer

2. @JNJComm

3. @Novartis

4. @Pfizer_news

5. @Roche_com

The questions on my mind were the following: Does it really make a difference whether or not you are following people back and how frequent you tweet? Does engagement on twitter impact the type and quality of your followers? And how? Can we see differences in type and quality of followers by the strategic objectives that pharma companies have set themselves for their presence on twitter… knowing that they cannot control who follows them?

The objective of part II of the pharma twitter analysis thus is to shed light into who follows pharma accounts on twitter in terms of their size (number of followers) and the type of stakeholders they represent.

To start of my analysis, I first took a look at a random sample of 200 pharma followers: 20% of the twitter accounts following one or more pharma accounts had more than 500 followers. I thus used this cut off and focused my analysis on only large accounts (>500 followers) to make the profiling manageable. Please also note that all data in this analysis was gathered around the 31st of Dec, 2009.

So let us have a first look at how many large pharma followers there are.


In the graph above, you see that 19% of pharma followers have more than 500 followers. This is a rather large percentage, compared to Sysomos data which states that:

“93.6% of users have less than 100 followers”

Well this is not the case for followers of pharma companies’! In fact, 26% of Boehringer Ingelheim followers are large accounts with more than 500 followers! And compared to Sysomos, even the 14% for Novartis is quiet impressive.

This first part of the analysis thus left me with 3,034 accouts to profile, correct?… Well actually not. I quickly realized that there was some overlap, 32% to be exact, in the pharma followers.


This overlap was,  of course, to be expected. If you follow one pharma company on twitter, why not follow the others as well? To be completely honest, I had hoped there to be MORE overlap as this still left me with 2, 079 accounts to go through, to segment and to profile- but, no such luck!

One thing that did become clear though when we mapped out the data with me on our visualization platform is that this overlap becomes bigger as accounts get larger (>2,000 followers).

Below, you thus see that Boehringer Ingelheim and J&J are followed by most of the VERY large accounts (>2000 followers) and that many of these accounts follow both companies:


My hypothesis on this outcome is that accounts that have a large number of followers on twitter are themselves very active and engaged. They are therefore likewise attracted by engagement (ie. frequent tweets, personal tone, high-value relevant content etc.). Like bees around honey, they thus seem to “gravitate” towards the two most engaged pharma accounts on twitter. Yet who are these large accounts? Are they representative of the key pharma stakeholders?

To answer this question, I segmented the 2,079 unique accounts following six categories to create meaningful segments:

Service providers: Consulting, agencies, CROs, pharma vendors, etc.

Journalist/bloggers: Journalists, financial analysts,trade, industry and health publications,  health bloggers etc.

Advocacy: Patient advocacy, cause/awareness advocacy etc.

HCP/Stakeholders: Physicians, nurses, regulators, insurance etc.

Science/academia: Scientists, scientific publications, faculty etc.

Other: Other pharma, employees, health sites, real estate agents, travel and other vendors, individuals, non-identifiable accounts

The overall segmentation of these 2,079 accounts thus declines as illustrated below:


I was also pleased to see that advocates came it third place as a segment, before Healthcare professionals. To me this signals an interest of large advocates in what pharma has to say.

It is further important to understand that service providers, journalists and bloggers are the most interconnected of all segments (with 36% and 41% overlap of accounts vs. 32% average):


So journalists, bloggers, service providers and advocates are heavily represented and interconnected on twitter.

So we saw so far that the most engaged pharmacos seemed to attract larger accounts and that key stakeholders, such as journalists and advocates were well represented in pharma’s followers.

Then, let me ask a final and most important question: Does the strategic objective pharmacos set themselves impact the segmentation of their followers?

John Pugh, the soul behind the Boehringer twitter account, has emphasized many times that his primary objective was engage with journalists via twitter. Marc Monseau, the JNJ twitter soul, on the other hand sees the objectives of his twitter presence as becoming an expert source of information and a news gatherer for a more diverse set of stakeholders.

The million dollar question than to me is, does this difference in strategy show? Are more journalists following Boehringe? Is JNJ more popular with a more diverse group of stakeholders?

keynote15So yes, hurray! Strategy does seem to make a difference, even in social media ;-)

Interestingly, Novartis,  Boehringer and Roche manage to attract more journalists and bloggers than the pharma accounts average. While advocates tend to gravitate towards Roche and Boehringer.

In the network analysis below, you can see that the overlap of these two stakeholders following Novartis vs. other the other pharma companies is quite important. Boehringer on the other hand seems to have the most “independent” portfolio, meaning many journalists and advocates only follow the Boehringer account.


Finally, let me share a couple of thoughts from this analysis:

It looks as though, service providers make up a large part of pharma followers. I know that this result confirms the hypothesis of many of my fellow bloggers and pharma social media thought leaders. While some might interpret the 36% of service provider followers as “deadweight” in pharma’s followers, I would not advise to go down that route.

I would not jump to conclusions as to the value of twitter as a communication channel with key stakeholders for pharma companies based on this outcome. Services providers have a large twitter presence, are highly interconnected to many key stakeholders and have a vested interest in  sharing information received from pharma accounts. Rather than seeing them as deadweight, I would advice to activate them as powerful message amplifiers that have the ability and interest to carry content into the heart of many communities.

Also, it seems as though journalists and bloggers percentages are rather low. One reason for this certainly is that I was very strict in who I attributed to this category. The choice between putting someone down as a blogger or a service provider was very difficult indeed. As a rule of thumb, I tried to gauge the positioning that person portrayed in their twitter profile as a basis (ie. if you said you are a consultant, you are a service provider!).

Another important point with respect to journalists is that it only takes a handful to make a great impact. They are connected to powerful online and offline networks. Building a privileged channel via twitter to these stakeholders can thus has to be a top priority for any pharma account on twitter.  As a matter of fact, I will look at the outreach of all of these 2,079 accounts, meaning the number of people they reach via their following in the next part of my pharma twittersphere analysis (yup, there is going to be a part III :) .

Part III will thus look at how many followers pharma reaches through its followers. I also decided, I would tease you while you are waiting for this next part of the analysis and propose a little game for you.

Guess: If ALL accounts that follow the 5 pharma accounts in this analysis would retweet a post, how many people (double counting included) would they reach?

Give me your guess in the comments below. Who ever guesses closest wins a big box of Swiss chocolate :) .

Stay tuned for part III :-)

Please find below the slides of part I and II  for easier reading:

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

  1. Rheumatologe 29 January 2010 at 19 h 36 min ·


  2. blogaceutics 1 February 2010 at 1 h 10 min ·

    Great analysis, Silja. My guess: Total number of followers (first level) = 18,087 (double counting). Total number of followers (second level) = 3,469,871 is the people they would reach.

  3. Rob Halkes 5 February 2010 at 19 h 43 min ·

    Great work Silja,
    It needs a genius mind to initiate such an analysis. And you did!
    It shows us how pharma is actually experimenting to learn how to use the communication channel.
    Indeed as you state: “Internet holds the power to profoundly change the way healthcare is delivered.” Millions of patients and health care party’s turn to it everyday to see how they may develop to better care. It so seems upon your analysis: there’s a way to go. Good to have you as an agency to monitor that for pharma! I look out to part III

  4. Sabine 14 February 2010 at 20 h 53 min ·

    Hi Silja,

    my guess is: about 5 Mio

    Very interesting and helpful findings there – curious to see part III.

  5. John 30 March 2010 at 16 h 37 min ·

    Great stuff, and good conclusions and insight too.
    Part III – bring it on.
    How about the 30% of other (sorry to ask) – that is appx one of the biggest categories in yr analysis – any epatients in there?

  6. Silja 4 April 2010 at 12 h 27 min ·

    Hi John,

    the 30% other did not include epatients, these would be listed under advocates. The other category is large, because many accounts lacked profile information, and therefore could not be segmented. Also, this category includes employees of pharmacos (small %) and things like real estate agents, travel agencies etc. that I did not want to segment as pharma vendors.

    Hope this is helpful and thank you so much for your encouragement :-)

  7. John 4 April 2010 at 21 h 22 min ·

    Yes very,

    Thx for taking the time to explain.

    Happy Easter!


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