How pharma is using Twitter to connect with patients
A closer look at what pharma companies are doing in the Twitterverse.
Pharma Twitter is not like your Twitter. Your Twitter probably isn't closely regulated by the FDA. Your Twitter presumably is not monitored by dozens of interest groups with competing agendas. Your Twitter probably existed well before Pharma Twitter, because pharma companies are notoriously slow to take up new technology. Your Twitter probably has a lot more interesting and relevant stuff. But if you are looking for a job or a clinical trial, then pharma's corporate Twitter feeds may be just the place for you.
Even with the challenges, pharma has jumped onto the social media platform. According to a list maintained by industry blog Eye on FDA, there were nearly 335 company Twitter accounts as of June 2016. These accounts represent some 69 companies, with several companies having multiple accounts, and 201 are active on a daily basis. For example, Eli Lilly & Co. has 10 accounts, with more than half a dozen in the U.S. alone.
Why so many accounts? Most companies have accounts associated with certain divisions such as oncology or animal health, and many even have accounts for different geographical regions or for different purposes such as employee recruitment.
Still it's not easy for pharma to use Twitter. If a company is going to tweet about a drug, FDA regulations require the company to include the product name, indication, its most pressing risks and a link to an explanation of risks – all in the 140-character confines. For this reason, many companies shy away from product promotion on the platform.
Here's a closer look at some of the best-known pharma names on Twitter:
The British pharma's first Twitter account, @AstraZenecaUS, has less than half the followers of its main handle @AstraZeneca, despite being started about eight months earlier (although both were opened in 2009). The company also has an account for its biologics development arm, MedImmune. While the main handle often tweets from conferences, the US version focuses a lot on patient engagement and recruitment.
Only ~3% of cancer patients participate in clinical trials. We’re making it easier w/our Cancer Study Locator https://t.co/qAnJehwSoP— AstraZenecaUS (@AstraZenecaUS) October 19, 2016
Besides sharing its initials with the British Menopause Society and a completely unrelated radio show dubbed the Billy Madison Show, @bmsnews is the name account of the New York pharma. It was started in April 2009 and has about 98,000 followers. The feed covers everything from the conference call number for earnings to features about the company's supply chain, and is heavily populated with pictures.
Eli Lilly & Co.
Arguably one of the best in the biz when it comes to social media, Eli Lilly's @LillyPad has been operating since July 2010 and tweets on " public policy, Life at Lilly and corporate responsibility," with more than 96,800 followers. The company eventually moved @EliLillyCo to a protected account and now uses @LillyPad as its main account.
If you check out the company's newsroom page, you can see the latest tweet from any of its 10 accounts, including its regional accounts for Canada, Europe and Mexico or its divisional accounts for animal health biz Elanco, Lilly Diabetes and its oncology unit, or even from Elanco President Jeff Simmons.
One of the first pharmas to get into Twitter, establishing @GSK in April 2007, GlaxoSmithKline has 131,000 followers. The British company also has a US version @GSKUS that it started in March 2009 and has about half as many followers. The firm is good at interacting with its audience.
Oddly enough, there are several accounts that are unrelated to the company that use the full GlaxoSmithKline name, while all of the accounts actually affiliated with Glaxo use GSK.
Johnson & Johnson
Johnson & Johnson's main Twitter account @JNJNews has been active since February 2009 and has more than 140,000 followers. The feed is updated by the big pharma's corporate communications team and focuses on how the company is helping in certain disease areas.
The company also has several other accounts, including @JansseGlobal, @JNJInnovation, @JNJParents, @JNJCares and @JNJHistory to name a few.
Merck & Co.
"Tweeting about our commitment to saving & improving lives," says Merck of its main Twitter handle @Merck., which was started in April 2009 and has 110,000 followers. Unlike many of the other big pharmas, Merck also has an account dedicated solely to products called @USMerckProducts.
Have you heard about GARDASIL® 9 [Human Papillomavirus 9-valent Vaccine, Recombinant]? Visit https://t.co/pdmjFQCyv8 for more information.— US Merck Products (@USMerckProducts) June 10, 2016
The feed focuses on the drugs from the company and most of the Tweets make no claims and simply link to a safety page. The handle has only tweeted 70 times since its inception in June 2014, showing just how hard it is for pharmas to talk about products in this format.
Merck also has handles for its Merck for Mothers initiative and its Merck Manual.
Like its competitors, Novartis has multiple Twitter handles reflecting different division of the company including @Novartis for the company as a whole, @NovartisPharma for the pharmaceutical division and. @NovartisScience for the company's Institutes of BioMedical Research (NIBR). It has more than 250,000 followers between all of its accounts, with its oldest account originating in November 2008.
In a unique move, Novartis has one account devoted entirely to oncology clinical trials @NovartisOncCT, which was previously @NovartisCancrUS. The handle gives patients a place to find out if they qualify for trials.
NovartisOncTrialsUS (@NovartisOncCT) October 15, 2016
Like J&J, Pfizer has multiple twitter accounts, but most of these focus on different geographic locations like @PfizerCA, @Pfizer_Ireland and @Pfizer_Spain, as well as function like @PfizerCareers. It's two main accounts include @Pfizer and @Pfizer_News.
The eponymous account was started in July 2009 and has over 189,000 followers—arguably, the most followed of all the big pharma Twitter accounts. It largely focuses on the company's initiatives in the greater therapeutic arena, while the Pfizer News account is mostly a collection of press releases and well, news, from the company.
The Swiss pharma giant has been tweeting since February 2009 and has 147,000 followers for its main account @Roche. It is self-described as "news & updates on doing now what patients need next," offering followers commentary on earnings as well as education on therapeutic areas.
The French pharma arguably has the most Twitter accounts of any of its peers, with more than 18. It has handles for different regions – including its home of France, Canada, and the U.S.; as well as accounts for different units like its diabetes franchise and its Genzyme unit. Sanofi also has handles to help find jobs in different countries, and another account, @sanofiUSVOICES, that addresses government affairs.
Follow Lisa LaMotta on Twitter