Pharma twittersphere- who is following you- Part III


First let me apologize to all my readers for the long silence on my blog: travel, the organization of the HCMSEU unconference as well as the usual insanity of running my business and being the mom of a 2 year-old caught up with me :-)

So finally, here it is: Part III of the pharma twittersphere analysis!

As a recap, we are trying to determine whether the engagement strategy for twitter chosen by a pharma company impacts the audience (ie. followers) reached.

In part I of our analysis, we looked at engagement for the top 10 pharma accounts in terms of number of followers, number of following and number of updates.

We realized that major differences existed in pharmacos’ policies on following people on twitter. There were also big differences in the frequency of updates. A clear impact on the number of followers based on either one of these parameters was difficult to determine though. For example, Pfizer tweeted little but led the pack in terms of followers and Novartis, following only a select few still ended up with more followers than Boehringer Ingelheim, JNJ or Roche who all seemed more “engaged”.

When combining all three parameters in a matrix however, we saw an “engagement quadrant” emerge led by Boehringer Ingelheim and JNJ. While Roche and AstraZeneca seemed to be moving into it.


This matrix view of the pharma twittersphere found a lot of approval amongst many of you. It just felt right! If I would have asked you prior to starting this analysis, who you thought were the most engaged pharmacos on twitter, I am 99% sure that these are the names you would have come up with. However, the facts are that it is Pfizer and Novartis that feature the largest number of followers.

The question then becomes, does having an engagement strategy matter? Does it impact the type of follower reached?

In part II we thus focused on the qualitative differences in the type of followers reached by each pharmaco account.

For this analysis we chose over 2,000 twitter accounts. These accounts were selected if they followed at least one of the top 5 pharma accounts and had more than 500 followers themselves. We segmented these accounts into 5 segments: 1. Services providers, 2. Journalists/bloggers, 3. Advocacy, 3. HCPs/Stakeholders, 4. Science/academia and 5. Other.

We noticed that roughly 20% of pharma followers have over 500 followers. This a key finding in and of itself. It is a relatively large percentage compared to overall twitter statistics, which estimate that only 2% of twitter users even have more than 200 followers.

We further realized that with 36% service providers made up the largest segment amongst pharma followers. Journalists and bloggers came in second with 11%.

The overlap between followers of pharma accounts also was surprisingly small (only 32%) with journalists/bloggers showing the largest (41%) and HCPs/stakeholders the smallest (21%) overlap.

The first noteworthy difference between pharma accounts was that Boehringer Ingelheim and JNJ reached a disproportionate amount of the very large accounts (ie. over 2000 followers).

keynote2From the analysis so far, a first important concept thus emerges:

1. Large accounts follow you if you engage

This makes sense, because accounts that have a large number of followers on twitter have a high chance of being very active and engaged themselves. They are therefore  attracted by engagement (ie. frequent tweets, personal tone, high-value relevant content etc.) and will “gravitate” towards the most engaged pharma twitter accounts.

Next we looked at the distribution of the different segments and realized that there were indeed some differences amongst pharma twitter accounts:


The most interesting twitter account emerging from both parts of this analysis was Boehringer Ingelheim. One of the first pharmacos on twitter, it clearly leads before other pharma twitter accounts in terms of engagement (if measured by number of followers, following and updates combined).

Boehringer has set a clear strategy for its engagement on twitter: reach journalists with relevant information. Indeed,  15% of Boehringer Ingelheim’s followers are journalists or bloggers. Or reversely, this means that 32% of journalist and bloggers that follow one of the 5 pharma accounts  follow Boehringer. This is twice as many as for the other accounts benchmarked.

This luckily proves a second important concept:

2. Clear engagement strategy impacts who you reach

In this last part of the pharma twittersphere analysis, let us dive yet one level deeper into the composition of pharma followers. We will look at the reach of the different segments and pharma twitter networks and then link our observations to the much debated ROI question.

I believe, one has to start with grasping the raw power of connection concealed in twitter. I had the chance to listen to Berci‘s amazing talk at digipharma Europe last week where he evoked the concept of Return on Connections. He was making the point that the right type of engagement gives you access to such powerful networks of customers that the pure amount of positive word of mouth generated should be sufficient reason to get involved in social media.

In the following analysis, I wanted to make this power of connection visible. I thus simply added up all the followers of the followers. The question was:  IF all 5 pharmacos  would send a tweet that EVERYONE  following them would retweet it, how many people could they reach?


Not surprisingly, journalists and bloggers, despite their relative small representation (11%) have a very large reach. This is to be expected, if you think that many of these accounts are either connected to mass media or represent prominent blogs, thus have large readership.

Also, the large network of service providers amongst the sampled followers now reaches the largest audience with 35% or 3.85 mio followers.

Some of you saw the high representation of service providers in the followers as a sort of “dead weight” to get rid off, kind of like spammers. I would not advice to go down that route. Services providers have a large twitter reach, are highly interconnected to many key stakeholders and have a vested interest in sharing information received from pharma. Instead of “dead weight” I see them as a powerful pool of digital conveyancer (term borrowed from my friend and leading industry commentator Andrew Spong ). They can be powerful message amplifiers with the ability and interest to carry your content into the heart of many communities!

We might thus want to reframe our thinking on service providers and introduce a third important concept:

3. There are no “bad” followers

Followers on twitter are by definition people that have subscribed to receiving your information. You should actively reach out to and engage with these important stakeholders. They are interested in what you have to say, look at them as your fan club, not as an indicator of performance!

So the burning next question is: are there significant differences in reach amongst pharma accounts…and the answer is YES!

keynote1JNJ and Boehringer followers reach the largest amount of people with 4.5 mio and 4.1 mio respectively. This then leads to a fourth essential realization:

4. A follower does not equal a follower

Let me illustrated this concept with the reach of the journalist/blogger network. Below you see a network representation of  all journalist/blogger accounts,  highlighted are the largest accounts, the shading represents the relative “reach” of each pharmaco account.


Whilst Boehringer Ingelheim stands out with a large network of large journalist/blogger accounts in its following, it is the Novartis and Roche twitter accounts that caught my attention in this analysis. From this network it does not look as though they have the largest number of journalists/bloggers follow them. How come they then “hit the jackpot” with their journalist/bloggers reaching roughly 1.3 mio people vs. Boehringer’s reaching only 1.0 mio?

After further analysis, it became clear that this large outreach was driven by one account in particular: @goodhealth , ‘s health magazine which at the time of this analysis counted 1.1 mio twitter followers. A perfect illustration that a single follower can make a huge difference on twitter.

To sum up, here are the four concepts again:

1. Large accounts follow you if you engage

2. Clear engagement strategy impacts who you reach

3. There are no “bad” followers

4. A follower does not equal a follower

Finally, I would like to conclude with two essentially related points.

Firstly, I hesitated a long time to set up this analysis in this way. I feel it is fundamentally wrong to look at these networks putting pharma at its center. This is an outdated mass-marketing approach of looking at the universe. If I had had the time and resource necessary, I would have analyzed the networks by topic of conversation and then had place the pharma accounts within them. In other words, we ought to be looking at how many influential health journalists/bloggers, HCPs, advocates etc. there are on twitter and then determine how many are currently connected with pharma.

Secondly, as Phil Bauman’s post The ROI of the Tweet brilliantly points out: before you get to return you must get to re-frame. I hope that this fresh look at the networks on twitter will help us somewhat reframe the twitter ROI question. We now can prove that the connections you tap into can be used as a real measurement of the POTENTIAL reach you can expect from a tweet.

The ACTUAL return, however, will depend on your content and engagement. I calculated the reach in this analysis based on the hypothesis that there would be a tweet that everyone would retweet. This, of course, will never be the case. The return you can expect from your tweet will depend on the power of your message and your engagement with the community. These two parameters will determine the strength of the impulse with which you can emit tweets. Combine this impulse with the quality of your connections in your network and you can determine your twitter ROI: the Return on Impulse. ;-)

5 Comments on "Pharma twittersphere- who is following you- Part III"

  1. Andrew Spong 6 April 2010 at 13 h 52 min ·

    Hi Silja

    We’ve been finding a lot to say of late regarding the chimerical nature of regulation as a barrier to participation in the EU, and your analysis of these Twitter metrics provides further compelling evidence that silence is not a virtue in this space, and that reach is a function of persistence.

    Lots more to say on this, but I’ll pass the mic. Not something I’m great at, as you know. :)

    I love your latest redefinition of ROI. Impulse power! It sounds like something out of Star Trek. Thanks also for pimping my new title!

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