I recall a time when the head of a regulatory department of a pharmaceutical company told me that the company would never, ever, ever under any circumstances be involved in social media. By my count, today that company has twenty-one different twitter feeds running, nine of them in the U.S. and the rest around the world. It is not an atypical history when it comes to pharma and social media. In the beginning there were few. Today there are many.
For some time now, I have monitored the activity of pharma across several social media platforms in a database that tracks what companies are doing on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ and Periscope. An activity gets logged and characterized as I become aware of it and during regular concerted efforts to discover activity and log it in. Therefore the database where I store this information is not perfect, and has some rough edges – the numbers should not be construed as absolute, but they do serve as a healthy observation and characterization of activity where we can sort by company, country, frequency of updates, and purpose for which the activity is undertaken.
Recently I worked to update the Twitter feeds and added in about 40 of which I had not been aware. Nearly all of them are listed here on my Twitter list of pharmas.
- How many? Looking first to numbers – the numbers have grown even if the strategy may not seem all that apparent. The total number of Twitter feeds in the data base is 335 being run by 69 companies making prescription products – removing those that are aimed at supporting over-the-counter products. Obviously there are some pharma company brands that run multiple feeds. Some run over 20.
- How busy? One of the fields tracked is how often the feed is used and only 201 had “regular” or “daily” updates with another 8 having rare updates. The balance were inactive/dormant accounts. (See posting “Abandoned Properties“) Of the active feeds, the pharmas are following about 190,000 others and being followed by 2.7 million, though it should be noted that this census represents numbers from last summer as those numbers are only recorded once a year.
- What for? The feeds in the data base are characterized by primary purpose. Of the active 201 – what is the activity? Overwhelmingly the purpose is a corporate one with 141 of the Twitter feeds serving some direct corporate purpose, including corporate social responsibility (CSR) – of which 9 appear directly related to CSR and about another half dozen could be characterized as being involved in advocacy. There are also a fairly large number that have been devoted to the issue of a disease or condition (39 overall, 23 among the active). A few are even dealing in product-specific work to varying degrees. Finally, there are a number of Twitter feeds devoted to recruitment. Looking for a job? There are 36 such feeds and you can see just those recruiting tweets here.
- Where are they? What may surprise some is that 58 percent of the active Twitter feeds were outside of the United States. That appears largely because many of the multinational firms have developed feeds that are country and language specific.
The FDA guidance and/or lack thereof and the FDA OPDP enforcement and/or lack thereof, may have chilled entry into the Twittersphere by many, but that has not lasted. The numbers have increased, but industry may be a ways off from finding its stride here entirely, But Twitter is a news platform see my updated list of Healthcare reporters on twitter) – it reports news and drives traffic. While many companies are still not there, others realize that engagement here is important. In short, pharma has emerged on Twitter in healthy numbers. In the next phase, many companies will likely be working to more closely coordinate their efforts while others may still contemplate whether to take the plunge.