Digital Insights: Big Pharma Prefers Tweets to Blogs

Just when Big Pharma started getting comfortable with blogging, they went and changed the media platform.

By Michele V. Wagner, Senior Digital Editor

Big Pharma may not be at the forefront of social media, but within the past year, one trend has become abundantly clear: it prefers Twitter to blogs. In the past three years, J&J, Centocor and GSK created official blogs.

“We feel obliged to . . . productively and appropriately engage in this new space,” went the inaugural post in GSK’s “More than Medicine.” However, like its equivalents, J&J’s BTW, and Centocor’s CNTO411, and the blog/community alliConnect, this pharma blog may now be in digital limbo.

Within the past year, no fewer than nine Big Pharma companies have created an official corporate presence on Twitter: @Amgen, @AstraZenecaUS, @Boehringer, @genentechnews, @GSKUS, @JNJComm, @Novartis, @Roche_com. There are other accounts such as @pfizer_news that tweet out the company’s daily press releases.

Is the pharma blog in digital limbo?

Why Twitter carries so much appeal is anyone’s guess. Perhaps these companies see it as a simple information exchange tool. Maybe they find it easier to use to monitor brand response. Or, as one pharma media watcher wrote recently, perhaps they find it more difficult to get into any legal or other trouble in 140 characters.

So what is Big Pharma’s Twitter strategy and who are the faces behind the accounts? On average, these Big Pharma tweeting powerhouses have 1,300 followers each, while they are only following roughly 20% to 30% of those following their updates.

Novartis seems to have the most followers (2,265) yet only updates once a week.

Boehringer and JNJ appear to follow everyone who is following them while Amgen and Novartis follow only a select few. In a recent podcast with John Mack, Boehringer’s Twitter manager and self-proclaimed “social  media guy,” John Pugh, says that the initial strategy was to target and interact with journalists and physicians, but Twitter has since evolved into a means of understanding and receiving feedback from customers.

Roche’s Twitter strategist, Sabine, left an interesting comment on the WhyDotPharma Blog post “Pharma twittersphere—to be followed or to follow?” stating that Roche’s Twitter approach is an evolving process that requires close monitoring of Twitter search for certain topics and keywords in order to provide valuable information on its brand and industry issues. WhyDotPharma’s research also reported that all the Big Pharma accounts are run by a single employee who is passionate about social media, uses Twitter monitoring tools to filter brand and company information and follows other Twitters based on their content value-add.

Whatever happens to the blog, and whatever the reasons for its love of Twitter, Big Pharma is tweeting and a growing number of us are listening.

To follow us on twitter: @PharmaMfg and @PharmaQbD.

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