The myth of the pharma super fan

Written by Silja on 16 December 2011 in pharma twittersphere - No comments
Follower color coded by number of pharma accounts followed

With this post, let us examine the long standing myth that phama on twitter is one big bubble of conversation driven by a few pharma super fans. We examined in great detail the high relevancy of pharma followers in the respective segmentation studies geography and stakeholders here. However let us conduct another quick back of the envelope analysis around the overlap between pharma twittersphere followers. In particular, we would like to analyze whether or not most of the activity generated around pharmaceutical companies on twitter comes from a small elite of “pharma super fans”. In other words, is there a segment of followers within the pharma twittersphere that:

  1. Follows most pharmaceutical companies (10 out of 15 pharma accounts)
  2. Has an above average reach
  3. Tweets above average and
  4. Emits most of the retweets and mentions of pharmaceutical companies

Overlap of followers, adjusting for double counting

We identified a total of 115,188 accounts that followed at least one of the 15 pharma accounts benchmarked. Adjusted for double counting, this distilled down to 53,171 unique accounts. There was thus a double count of 54% in the sample. In terms of unique accounts, however, this overlap only translated to 36%, since some accounts followed several pharma accounts. We have no benchmark as to what overlap one should expect between followers of company twitter accounts within a particular industry. We can thus only state here that there is considerably less overlap between followers than it initially appeared.


Follower color coded by number of pharma accounts followed

Above a visualization of all pharma followers with more than 500 followers. Followers are color coded by the number of pharma companies they follow. We see that about two thirds of all accounts (64%) only follow one pharma account on twitter. Only a small number of accounts (3%) followed over 10 of the 15 pharma accounts benchmarked. So can this small number of accounts be qualified as “pharma super fans”?

No. Neither the reach, nor the number of tweets of this group are above the pharma twittersphere average. Also, this segment does not have a significantly different stakeholder mix than the overall sample: only exception pharma employees and companies. They made up 7% of the segment instead of 2% overall.

Next, we examined the activity around pharmaceutical companies in terms of the retweets and mentions they received. We analyzed an estimated 3,163 tweets, resulting in 4,999 retweets and 8,106 mentions between January and September 2011 as a basis. We took a sample of 30% of the retweets and mentions to analyze who emitted them.

Only 56%, of the accounts that retweeted or mentioned the pharma accounts benchmarked actually also followed them. In other words, 44% of accounts that reacted to pharma tweets, or 33% of the total mentions, were from people who did not even follow any of the 15 pharma accounts benchmarked.

While it is true that the segment that followed more than 10 pharma accounts retweeted or mentioned pharma accounts about twice as much on average, the total activity of this segment only represents 14% of all mentions and retweets. The majority of retweets and mentions of pharma thus stems from a large number of stakeholders following none, or only one, pharma account.


It is very tempting to believe in the myth of a “pharma super fan”, a subset of pharma commentators that are actively watching and eagerly commenting on pharma’s every activities. It is the dream of every marketer to create such a “super social media fan club”. Yet only a few companies, like Apple, for example actually succeed. It is, of course,  true  that bubbles of highly active hashtagged conversations exist for all important topics, like around pharma’s social media activities (#hcsm, #hcsmeu. #socpharm), investor discussions (using the $ sign instead of the hashtag), diseases and conferences. Yet, as we just discovered, not a single one of these “pockets” of conversations is dominating pharma followers nor driving its mentions on twitter. It is also true that the pharma companies who engage, like JNJ, Boehringer or Roche will get more mentions in the conversations they chose to engage with. Yet, that is the whole point of engagement, isn’t it? Finally, of course, some segments or pockets of conversation might temporarily dominate discussions, like during conferences for example, or some might even necessitate close monitoring and crisis management. Yet it would be ignorant of the vast complexity of issues and stakeholders in pharma communications in general to think that the pharma twitter prensence for some reason would be dominated by such pockets of conversation.

Make a guess!

We did of course identify the pharma follower who retweeted and mentioned pharma twitter accounts most this year. Just for fun though, tweet your guess to @whydotpharma using the hashtag #pharmasuperfan. The first 5 correct responses will get a 50% discount on any of the twittersphere studies! Merry Christmas! :-P


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