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Who Follows Big Pharma On Twitter?

Do “normal” people – patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, life scientists, etc – follow Big Pharma on Twitter? I’ve long had a hunch that most of the followers (and by followers I mean people who are actually paying attention) of Pharma accounts are primarily consultants, marketers, PR pros, social media evangelists and others interested in Pharma’s use of the Web (including myself).

So I decided to gather the key words in the profiles of a select group of Pharma companies. I used the service TwitterSheep to generate tag clouds of these profiles. This isn’t a purely scientific approach, but it’s reasonable enough to provide some insight into whose following Pharma. My friends Silja Chouquet (@Whydotpharma) and Andrew Spong (@AndrewSpong) each provided great insight into Pharma and Twitter. You can read their posts here and here, respectively.

Based on the tag clouds, here are the top ten key words in the profiles of followers of selected Pharma companies:

  • Pharmaceutical
  • Medical
  • Healthcare
  • Time
  • Social
  • PR
  • Marketing
  • Research
  • Web
  • Health

“Normal” people don’t have words like Marketing or PR or Social or Pharmaceutical in their bios. Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Pharma’s adoption of Twitter is relatively recent. But I don’t think that Pharma’s providing the most value that it could with its primary audience being marketing professionals.

Here’s a slideshare of screenshots for each tag cloud of the eleven accounts I examined (if you can’t see the embed, check it out here):

Do Normal People Follow Pharma on Twitter?

Pharma’s core base – patients and physicians and pharmacists and health care organizations – are the most valuable followers. Pharma certainly can’t do things that non-regulated industries can do. Nonetheless, Twitter does have many diverse business values: dissemination of news, consumption of relevant content, engagement with followers who can spread positive sentiments within the community and many other practical uses.

Currently, it’s not clear what specific goals Pharma companies have with respect to Twitter. Each can have completely different goals – and most of these accounts are maintained by people whom I’ve met personally. But the concern here isn’t so much about how Pharma companies are using Twitter (that’s another discussion). For as much as Twitter is about the humanization of communications and the ability to converse, audience is still a critical thing to build.

I realize Twitter’s still a shiny new toy for some industries (it’s actually a staple of communications for many others), but Pharma needs focuses and purposes and goals as it matures from the unilateral broadcasting skills it honed in the last quarter of the 20th Century towards the pliant, two-way and multi-faceted characteristics of the kind of media which the Web is giving birth to every day. There’s no guarantee that all Pharma companies will learn these new skills and new ways of thinking. There will be winners. There will be losers. Hopefully, it’s the patients who win. (Which is a good thing for the industry.)

What audiences should Pharma focus its tweets on developing, cultivating and engaging? That’s an important question. I doubt the CEOs of Big Pharma companies are terribly interested in dazzling Social Medi Gurus and Marketers and PR Pros. :)

*This blog post was originally published at Phil Baumann*


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2 Responses to “Who Follows Big Pharma On Twitter?”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post Phil—you raise an interesting point. I’ve long wondered (and written) about the makeup of pharma’s following audience. The danger of not understanding this audience is creating an echo chamber with a bunch of social media wonks talking to themselves. On the flip side: I do wonder how we can identify “real” people. My observation is that most people get on Twitter initially with a specific purpose. For example, I am a PR purpose and my first reason for being on Twitter was to connect with journalists. It has morphed into much more than that and I now use it as a medium to promote my blog, learn from my peers and uncover new topics of interest. My point is: the numbers of people that are identifiable as being in pharma’s sweet spot will always be few and far between. Very few people are going to describe themselves in their bio as “health information seekers.” I realize that’s not what you are suggesting by any stretch. I think pharma can take a two-pronged approach. For starters, there is an aspect of “influencing the influencers” here. There are a slew of people blogging about diseases that run the gamut from diabetes to cancer to HIV and everything in between. These people are certainly on Twitter—while their readers may not be. On another approach (and a needed one always) is to—as you suggest—stay engaged. This will almost assuredly uncover a group of people that are interested in a topic that may not be evident from their bio. For example, my Mom battled melanoma for four years and I was a voracious reader of any content I could find on the topic. It wasn’t apparent by my bio, and rarely by my Tweets, but I was the perfect “health information seeker.” As you point out, the most important part is to have a defined strategy as to why you are there and who you are hoping to reach.

  2. Chris says:

    This is really a great read. Although “normal” people may not be following Pharma (why would they, really?) They are still talking about them A LOT. There’s probably more of a need for Pharma to be searching out questions and issues with customers as opposed to trying to build a following on Twitter. The most important thing they can do is LISTEN and respond.

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