Naturally, being the pharmaceutical social media advocate that I am, I follow many of the pharmaceutical Twitter accounts that are becoming increasingly prevalent. Like others, I have long observed from afar how these accounts compare to so-called best practices for Twitter engagement. WhyDotPharma has already conducted a two part analytical look at the presence of pharmaceutical companies as it relates to their number of followers, the number they follow and the frequency of their Tweets. I strongly suggest you click on the two links above for a very thorough and analytical look at the pharma Twittersphere.
And while I did gather data for this post, my survey of healthcare Twitter accounts will be less focused on the analytical side and more focused on pulling out some general observations and putting them in the context of helping to move the industry forward. Plus, I can’t put together graphs that are nearly as sharp as the ones Silja put together.
For my research, I relied mostly on Jonathan Richman’s unbelievably helpful Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki to identify as many healthcare Twitter accounts as possible. For the purposes of this post, I evaluated 39 Twitter accounts. After pouring through the data, Tweets and usage, I was able to boil it down to a five key lessons:
1.) People Care: The average number of followers for a Twitter account in my sample size was 1,290. That’s a pretty healthy number when you consider that pharma accounts only followed 421 people back on average and had an average total Tweets number of 57. The follow-back rate of 31 percent and infrequent Tweets does not warrant the hefty followers number that pharma has garnered. So why the high number? People care. It’s certainly debatable what types of people are currently following the Twitter accounts of life sciences companies (marketers, social media advocates, journalists, etc…). But it’s hard to question that there is a genuine interest in the foray of pharmaceutical companies into social media. Take the Bristol-Myers Squibb Twitter account for example. BMS has established a presence on Twitter with a corporate handle, but has yet to send out a single Tweet or follow a single user. Despite that, 642 people have followed BMS based on the mere fact that it has set up shop in Twitter land. People care—pharma just need to demonstrate it does as well.
2.) Lots of Back Patting: It’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies are entering uncharted waters when engaging on Twitter. This lack of familiarity is only compounded by the fact that regulatory challenges make the water excessively choppy. The response from pharmaceutical companies has been to skew so far in the other direction that the value of their content is diminished. Paralyzed by a fear of interacting with patients, encountering adverse events or mentioning a brand, healthcare companies have tended to stick to promoting “safe” content such as company press releases. There is nothing wrong with directing people to your company news page on occasion, but the problem is that for many companies, this represents the majority of their Twitter account. You should offer something of value on Twitter that is unique to that user group—not something that can be found by scouring the wires.
3.) Single-Use Accounts Gain Ground: Perhaps it’s a product of an excessively fragmented industry, but what I will refer to as “single-use” accounts seem to be gaining in popularity. What I mean is accounts that are geared toward a specific type of content (SanofiTV), or were established as a result of a specific event (McNeil Recall) or serve a single function (AZHelps). This is not to say that single-use accounts are ill advised. Quite the contrary. If used properly, single-use accounts can have a very positive impact. However, there is a danger with relying on single-use accounts for your foray into social media. There is a potential to treat social media more as a campaign than a sustained engagement. Social media requires a sustained effort to add more value to the community than you extract. That’s tough to achieve if people know you are only there for a single purpose or for a defined period of time. However, uses like the McNeil Recall example and AZHelps are good examples of companies acknowledging the unique platform provided by social media in being able to directly engage with the patient.
4.) Corporate Accounts without Human Identity or Interaction: The large majority of healthcare Twitter accounts lack any type of personal identity. This misses an opportunity to bring a human element to the brand. Is it a coincidence that two of the best examples of pharmaceutical companies on Twitter (Johnson and Johnson and Boehringer) have individuals behind the account? I tend to doubt it. Not to mention, the follow-back rates of 44% and 63% of J&J and Boehringer easily outpace the industry average. The lesson? Engagement in social media demands some form of interaction. When dealing with health, that interaction is almost always of a personal nature. Without a personal side to your corporate Twitter account, you are missing out on a key benefit of social media.
5.) This is Just a Test: The infrequency of Tweets and the general tone of the content suggests that most pharmaceutical companies are just testing the social media waters with Twitter. That’s okay. While it points to a flawed social media strategy in the short-term, it also maximizes chances of future success. Why? Because as I have harped on before, we need social media realists, not purists. A social media realist understands that in order to gain general acceptance at an organization or within an industry, you have to play by their rules. That means, taking things slow and proving the model before you fully immerse yourself in the world of social media.