More Space on Twitter – Does it Change Things for Pharma?

This week media carried reports that Twitter was going to making a shift in policy regarding space. Until now, you have been limited to 140 characters in your tweeting which included space for your – albeit tiny – URL and/or a photograph. That meant sending a tweet with a photograph embedded or a URL included ate up some of your 140 character limitation. But in the near future, that apparently will not be so.

URLs, while not a requirement for a tweet, are practically essential from a consumer point of view. Social media, after all, is about engagement and a tweet that does not drive traffic somewhere – or give people something to share – is someone just talking about themselves. And we’ve all been on that date. Ultimately, it isn’t very interesting. Driving traffic – back to a website or a blog posting or any other platform – is really a key function of Twitter.

Photos are, of course, are not required, but similarly make a Tweet more interesting and there has been ample commentary that use of photos drives engagement with a tweet, outpacing engagement in the mere text tweeting.

So how much space are we actually talking about saving now that photos and URLs are not eating up our 140 characters? The answer depends on whether or not you are using both, or just one. In the case of using either a photo or a URL, you are eating up about 22 characters – or about 16 percent of your Tweet. If you are using both a photo and a URL in your tweet, you are of course then saving 32 percent of your tweet.

Does that make a difference for use of Twitter by pharma? The answer is yes and no.

First the no. It does not change the regulatory parameters in which companies are operating when contemplating a tweet that contains a brand name product. While adding a total of 32 percent to a tweet sounds substantial, we are really only talking about 44 characters, not enough to cram in the added risk information required and to meet the requirements laid out in the FDA draft guidance on using platforms where there are character space limitations.

And for the yes part. On the unbranded side of things, the new space permitted in your tweet does allow you more space to say more of interest to help set the context of any picture you want to send or any link you want to include.  (By the way, you can see all things FDA and social media on the tab on the blog by the same name.) Having the extra space available may encourage the greater use of photos which, in turn, generates greater interest in your tweet.

And there is an added benefit in terms of coverage by third parties. Using photos without a space penalty may encourage reporters to utilize more images in their tweets. Twitter has given birth to a whole new world of “micro-journalism” giving a platform for reporters to write about news and issues they otherwise might not have covered in pre-social media days. Many reporters have demonstrated a lot of creativity in use of photos and more may do so in the future now that their use is liberated from the character space jail.

This is by no means scientific or conclusive in any way, but going to my Twitter list of pharma companies that are tweeting (the list has 229 companies on it) and counting the last 10 tweets, it was noteworthy that only 2 had pictures. Going to my Twitter list of healthcare reporters on Twitter, 6 out of the 10 had pictures. We’ll see if the new space liberation encourages more photo use. Get out your phones and start snapping.

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