Pharma twittersphere update: Think, listen, talk, engage

Written by Silja on 19 October 2010 in pharma twittersphere - 8 Comments

Upon popular demand, mainly from my friend Shwen from Vertex Pharma who will present this data at Digital Pharma East today ;) , I took a quick look at the evolution of our favorite pharma twitter accounts in terms of followers, following and updates.

First, I observe that on average followers doubled between December of last year and now.


As you can see, Pfizer and Novartis continue to lead the follower ranking, but Pfizer and Roche grew appr. 10% above the average. This growth spurt allows Roche move from 6th to 3rd place overtaking GSKUS, JNJ and Boehringer !

In terms of following accounts on twitter, the previous analysis had shown a clear divide in policy amongst pharma, between those that follow back a large number of accounts and those that do not due to legal concerns. We now see that this divide persists and is growing.


Pfizer continues its aggressive following strategy overtaking JNJ in terms of number of accounts followed. Also Roche and Vertex have joined the group of pharma companies that demonstrate they are listening to the twittersphere by expanding their following base .

Great news: on average twitter updates doubled since the last analysis. Still, this translates to less than 1 tweet per day per pharma account on average. For a twitterrati like myself, this seems low and I cannot help but think that there MUST be more these companies could share, if they integrated social media better in their overall communication portfolio.


Also, as you can see above, the distribution is far from being equal across pharma accounts as well. JNJ and Roche lead with respect to frequency, tweeting about twice as much as the others. Also a large portion of their tweets are social in nature (ie. retweeting or @replying) thus engaging with their followers on specific topics.

So, let us put it all together in the matrix format: I tried to visualize the evolution from December of last year to now and highlight the trajectory for some accounts by superposing the matrixes. You will thus find two bubbles per account: A faded one displaying the status on Dec 09 and a colored one for now:


As to be expected, Roche and JNJ make the biggest moves in this matrix, because both their following and updates grew above average. Interestingly so, this translate into an above average increase in followers for Roche, but not for JNJ. This makes me wonder, if there is such a thing as a plateau in terms of follower growth? And if so, will the level of this plateau differs by company or type of engagement?

Following this logic I decided to create 4 quadrants along the lines of average following and average updates and to place the pharma accounts within these. I named these new matrix engagement quadrants: Think, Listen, Talk and Engaged:


Think: These majority of companies find themselves here. They follow no or only a small selection of accounts and update sparsely, mainly press releases or other mass media news.  I called this the quadrant “think”, to be politically correct, but maybe it should be called the “figuring out twitter” qudrant. With this I do not only mean the intricacies of technically and socially using twitter, but more so the internal processes of getting comfortable with twitter as a channel. This said, I believe that some companies have spent a bit too much time “thinking” and are stuck in this mode. It is time for them to start following more people, to listen and learn more, in order to fuel the internal dialog on the validity of this communication channel.

Listen: Pfizer and Vertex are the only two companies in this quadrant, where the base is built, but the engagement is missing. Pfizer’s continued low update frequency puzzles me: why not take more advantage of its massive twitter presence by engaging in dialog with its stakeholders? Isn’t this a lost opportunity? I also hope that Pfizer’s success in attracting followers on twitter is perceived as a token of trust by the community and not an invitation to use twitter as a one-way broadcast channel.

This said, both Pfizer and Vertex are still relatively new to twitter and thus might be disadvantaged by this analysis which is based on averages.

Talk: The talk quadrant is occupied by AstraZenecaUS, which reflects a balance in following accounts as well as updating with acceptable frequency.  To be completely honest, I  should analyze the company tweets in detail: if over 25% of their tweets are @replies or RTs,  maybe they ought to figure in the engaged quadrant.

Engaged: Finally! Pharma is engaged…hurray! Well yes and no.

Obviously, companies like JNJ, Boehringer and Roche are moving in the right direction with respect to engaging in social media. Especially Roche’s publication of its social media guidance and the subsequent positive echo from the blogosphere demonstrated the readiness on either side to have pharma add its perspective to the ongoing conversation.

To conclude though, let us not forget though, that engagement is a moving target or better: engagement is a RELATIONSHIP. You have to invest in it constantly and engage consistently for it to work and flourish in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. So what’s the next phase, pharma? Where do you want this relationship to go?

The phrase “the honeymoon is over” wants to spring to my lips, but I will refrain. Nevertheless, I trust that at least companies that are “engaged” have stopped to look at social media as only a “hot date” and have started to create a warm place for it in its family of communication channels.

8 Comments on "Pharma twittersphere update: Think, listen, talk, engage"

  1. Allison Blass 19 October 2010 at 16 h 38 min ·

    I would be curious to also know, in addition to this, about the followers and following stats for accounts that are not “official accounts” from pharma, but also from individuals from the organization. There are “non-official” accounts that seem to have such as much ability to build relationships (if not more!) than the frequently stale corporate accounts.

  2. KO 19 October 2010 at 17 h 33 min ·

    it’s misleading to talk about engagement, for a platform that is essentially an information channel. engagement is indeed striving to develop relationships. that really requires two-way conversations, when most followers are just listening.
    and who are the followers who listen? my guess is that aside from journalists / investors, they are primarily employees from the respective companies, reflecting a thirst for information. then employees from competitors, researchers etc. Patients, physicians, probably very few.
    it may be difficult to prove the conjecture since most followers’ accounts will reflect employment, but there is anecdotal evidence to support it.

  3. KO 19 October 2010 at 17 h 35 min ·

    oops, … will NOT reflect employment …

  4. Jason Romain 6 June 2011 at 10 h 54 min ·

    Very interesting analysis on twitter usage for pharma, thanks for sharing! We just launched our first online event for Social Media in Pharma, including speakers from Boehringer Ingelheim, MedImmune, Texas Instruments and Merck, discussing twitter and other SM channels. Mention “nomadmarketer” to get 10% off.

  5. Michi E 4 November 2011 at 11 h 26 min ·

    Thanks for sharing!

    @ engagement/Twitter – it depends on own strategy if Twitter leads to engagement or is “only” an information channel.. For me Twitter has a lot to do with engagement and two-way communication

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